Prehistoric dental disease and the dietary shift from cactus to cultigens in Northwest Mexico

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36 Scopus citations


Differences in dental health of prehistoric human groups are commonly attributed to specific subsistence practices, whereby food foragers generally have a lower incidence of dental disease than agriculturalists. Dental health was assessed on a sample of 135 human skeletons from northwest Mexico that date to the Early Agricultural period (1600 BC-AD 200), which coincides with the initial introduction of domesticated cultigens into the region c. 2000 BC. High rates of dental caries (13.5%) and antemortem tooth loss (17.6%) encountered in these prehistoric forager-farmers from the Sonoran Desert were determined to be the result of the consumption of highly cariogenic local wild resources such as cactus. These patterns mask the degree of reliance on agriculture in the area and highlight the importance of constructing local nutritional histories to better understand the diversity of human diets and their relationships to health and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-212
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Agriculture
  • Antemortem tooth loss
  • Cactus
  • Caries
  • Sonoran Desert

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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