Inferring childhood dietary maturation using buccal and occlusal deciduous molar microwear: a case study from the recent prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula

  • Raquel HernandoEmail author
  • John C. Willman
  • Josep Maria Vergès
  • Manuel Vaquero
  • Susana Alonso
  • Xavier Oms
  • Artur Cebrià
  • Juan Ignacio Morales
  • Marina Lozano
Original Paper


Over the last years, the knowledge of the children’s diet is a topic of growing interest in dental anthropology. Our aim seeks to establish patterns of interpopulation and intrapopulation variability in dietary microwear among children from four Iberian sites dated to the Neolithic through Bronze Age. Buccal and occlusal surfaces are compared to assess whether their differential rates of microwear turnover correspond with dietary differences linked to social and biological maturation (e.g., weaning and shifts to adult-like diets). This study is based on the analysis of 46 deciduous molars (Udm1, Udm2, and Ldm2). Occlusal and buccal surfaces were observed using an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) following standard microwear methodologies. The results show that from an interpopulation perspective, there are differences in the number of buccal scratches between Valdavara and the other sites. From an intrapopulation perspective, there was a greater number of buccal striations in the older age category from Cova de la Guineu and more occlusal pitting in the older age category from Cova dels Galls Carboners. This study shows the utility of the combined approach to buccal and occlusal microwear analysis as a means of understanding child dietary maturation in prehistory, showing that feeding practices and/or food choice can explain differences between specific age categories of children in addition to differences between archeological sites.


Diet Teeth Childhood Weaning Dental microwear 



Special thanks to the three anonymous reviewers and associate editor for comments and suggestions that considerably improved this manuscript. We would like to thank Andrés Teira Brión for his useful comments on the Galician Bronze Age and also to José Ramón Rabuñal for his helpful suggestions. Thanks also to the El Mirador Cave, Cova de la Guineu, Galls Carboners, and Valdavara excavation teams. ESEM analyses were conducted at the Scientific and Technical Resources Service of the University Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain.

Funding information

This work has been funded by the Dirección General de Investigación of M.E.C, project numbers PGC2018-093925-B-C32, CGL2015-65387-C03-1-P (MINECO/FEDER), the Junta de Castilla y León and CERCA Programme/Generalitat de Catalunya, AGAUR 2017 SGR 1040 and AGAUR 2017- SGR 00011. MINECO 2017-HAR 86509. The Galls Carboners and Cova de la Guineu excavations are funded by the 2014/100574 and the CLT009/18/00024 projects of the Culture Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya. The Valdavara excavation was funded by the Concello de Becerreá. JCW was funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (H2020-MSCA-IF-2016 No. 749188) and JIM by Juan de la Cierva – Incorporación (IJCI-2017-31445) R.H is beneficiary of PhD research fellowship Martí i Franquès (2019PMF-PIPF-59).

Supplementary material

12520_2019_997_MOESM1_ESM.docx (133 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 133 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raquel Hernando
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • John C. Willman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Josep Maria Vergès
    • 1
    • 2
  • Manuel Vaquero
    • 1
    • 2
  • Susana Alonso
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xavier Oms
    • 3
  • Artur Cebrià
    • 3
  • Juan Ignacio Morales
    • 3
  • Marina Lozano
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.IPHES. Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social. Zona Educacional 4TarragonaSpain
  2. 2.Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)TarragonaSpain
  3. 3.Department Història i Arqueologia, Seminari d’Estudis i Recerques Prehistòriques (SERP). Facultat de Geografia i HistòriaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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