Dental indicators of growth disturbance in a series of ancient Lower Nubian populations: Changes over time

Joel D. Rudney

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16 Scopus citations


Previous studies of accentuated striae of Retzius in tooth enamel suggest that early childhood growth disturbance tends to be severe in state‐level agricultural societies. The present study investigates the diachronic stability of levels of growth disturbance with a series of Lower Nubian agricultural states broadly similar in terms of mode of subsistence and way of life. The sample consists of 114 first permanent molars from the Meroitic (100 B.C. to 300 A.D.) and X‐Group (300 to 600 A.D.) cultures. These teeth were sectioned according to standard histological technique. Data on the frequency and severity of accentuated striae of Retzius were then used to derive estimates of the magnitude of individual growth disturbance. Populations were compared by means of a two‐way ANOVA, with growth disturbance as the dependent variable, and age and population as the independent variables. The results show that those dying in childhood experienced significantly higher levels of early childhood growth disturbance than did those surviving to adulthood. The results also show a decline in growth disturbance levels over time. Both X‐Group children and X‐Group adults experience significantly less early childhood growth disturbance than their Meroitic counterparts. These results suggest an improvement in child health status from Meroitic to X‐Group times. Tentative explanatory hypotheses imply an increase in village autonomy, an increase in helminthic disease related to a change in irrigation technology, or direct and indirect effects of consumption of naturally‐occurring tetracyclines. These hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, and further research is needed before any of them can be tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-470
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1983


  • Growth disturbance
  • Meroitic
  • Nubia
  • Striae of Retzius
  • X‐Group


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