Secrets Held in Ancient Human Teeth

Monday 8th February 2010

The Barker hypothesis as developed by David Barker suggested that there was a connection between the health in an infant and the impact later on in their lives. This has now been strengthened by a review published in the latest edition of Evolutionary Anthropology. The review in fact shows that those who contracted a defect in their tooth enamel during their earlier years became at greater risk of an early death.

The study as conducted by a leading anthropologist, George Armelagos of Emory University, delved deeply into prehistoric remains and the connection between tooth enamel defects and earlier mortality. Armelagos describes how teeth help provide an insight into the past making it achievable to see when some physiological disturbances occurred. The prehistoric remains that Armelagos has investigated shows extremely strong evidence that people who suffered defects in their tooth enamel during early childhood or within the womb were more likely to die earlier even if they had entered adulthood. The enamel of teeth provides such telling indications due to its development being in secretions at regular intervals, building the teeth up progressively. If a disruption occurs this will show up on the surface of the tooth enamel in grooves and can be caused by lifestyle factors such as stress, disease or poor diet. An example of a study that found such effects of lifestyle factors can be seen in the investigation of remains found at Dickson Mounds, Illinois. It clearly showed that people who had marked teeth due to stress in their early years lived on average 15.4 years less than those who didn’t!

Being the first study to entirely summarise the Barker hypothesis, it adds strength to it suggesting that the health of our ancestors could in fact provide an insight into our own health. The review also offers an indication that the health of a person during early childhood and fetal development is crucial in later life.


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