Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 9, pp 4789–4800 | Cite as

Sex- and status-based differences in medieval food preparation and consumption: dental microwear analysis at Trino Vercellese, Italy

  • April K. SmithEmail author
  • Laurie J. Reitsema
  • Frank L’Engle Williams
  • Rosa Boano
  • Giuseppe Vercellotti
Original Paper


Food preparation is of key importance in the medieval period where the manner of preparing ingredients had major sociocultural significance. We examine sex- and status-based differences in dental occlusal microwear from a human skeletal population from medieval Trino Vercellese, Italy, to assess intrapopulation differences in food preparation. We compare microwear results with previously reported stable carbon and nitrogen isotope data to determine the extent to which these two methods for dietary reconstruction correspond. Epoxy casts of second molars from 27 males and females of high- and low-status from medieval Trino Vercellese, Italy, were studied using field emission scanning electron microscopy. Feature tally, pit percentage, pit width, and striation width are compared between subgroups. Whereas previous isotopic data identified low-status males as outliers, dental microwear analysis indicates no differences in diet between the four sex- and status-based subgroups. However, the percentage of pitting is statistically different between males and females when status groups are pooled, with males exhibiting significantly higher values (p = 0.017). When sexes are pooled, low-status individuals are found to have significantly more features compared with high-status individuals (p = 0.030). This study demonstrates the applicability of dental microwear analysis for uncovering intra-group dietary patterns in socially stratified societies.


Paleodiet Biocultural Scanning electron microscopy Europe Nutritional anthropology 



We thank Emma Rabino Massa, Director of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in Turin, for granting permission to work with these materials. We also thank the Georgia Electron Microscopy Center at the University of Georgia for their assistance with this project. We also thank the anonymous reviewers who provided feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Life Sciences and Systems BiologyUniversity of TorinoTurinItaly
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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