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Human dental anthropology


Compulsory attendance


Prerequisites and restrictions

Students must have completed the bachelor.


This course offers a complete introduction to Human Dental Anthropology, a subdiscipline of Physical Anthropology and Osteology. The human dentition is an important source of information for physical anthropologists, (forensic) anthropologists and archaeologists.
The first subject to be addressed in this course is dental anatomy, with a focus on identification of the individual teeth of the adult and juvenile dentitions. Due to varying degrees of preservation, archaeologists often deal with loose teeth as opposed to complete dentitions (or complete skeletons). In such cases it is important to identify whether the tooth is human, and whether it is adult or juvenile. The next step is identifying exactly which dental element you’re dealing with.
After this introduction to dental anatomy, a number of different methods for aging both adults and juveniles using the dentition will be introduced. The student will learn which method is most applicable in a range of situations.
Human dental wear patterns are often used for reconstruction of the diet, but also for studying the use of the “teeth as tools” (these activities, such as weaving, can leave exceptional patterns of wear on the teeth). The student will learn how to recognize and record dental wear patterns, and how to make a basic diet reconstruction.
Oral and dental pathology is also often used in diet reconstruction, and furthermore offers a unique insight into group health patterns. The student will learn to recognize and record oral and dental pathology, and how these relate to cultural (e.g. dietary) practices.
Dental morphology is often used in palaeoanthropology to distinguish early hominins, and to track evolutionary development. In modern human dental anthropology morphological characteristics of the teeth are often used to understand genetic affiliations between groups. Furthermore, morphology and size of teeth is sometimes used for sexing skeletal material which is poorly preserved. The student will learn how to record and interpret basic dental morphology.

Each class will consist of a one-hour lecture, followed by an hour of practical exercises. These exercises are related to the lecture topic, and are meant for the student to put his/her newly learned skills into practice. Both archaeological and modern dental material will be used during these exercises.
Examination will consist of a practical test at the end of block 3 and 4, in which the student is asked to identify a number of teeth, record their dental wear, pathology and interesting morphological characteristics, and age a number of individuals based on their dentition. During the final classes the student will learn how to put all newly learned skills into a Dental Anthropological Report. The student will learn exactly how such a report should be written for the final exam: a Dental Anthropological Report (max. 1500 words), which will be based on (max.) 5 dentitions.

Learning outcomes

  • Correct identification of the teeth in the human dentition;

  • Aging of both adults and juveniles using the dentition;

  • Recognition and interpretation of dental pathology;

  • Recognition and interpretation of dental wear patterns (e.g. for reconstruction of diet);

  • Understanding dental morphology and its variation in modern humans.

Mode of delivery

  • Lectures;

  • Practical exercises.


  • Practical exam;

  • Dental Anthropological Report: deadline 31 May 2011 (max. 1,500 words).

Reading list

It is not necessary to buy any books for this class.
There will be weekly readings before each class (one article per week), but it is not necessary to hand in discussion points. The reading list will be made available two weeks before the first class, at the latest.
In preparation for this class, it is advised (but not compulsory) to look through the following books (please contact the teacher for literature that is not available in the library).

  • S.W. Hillson, Dental Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1996);

  • S.W. Hillson, Teeth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2005);

  • G.R. Scott & C.G. Turner II, The Anthropology of Modern Human Teeth. Dental Morphology and its Variation in Recent Human Populations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1997).