M.A. Theses: Shannon Raye Wood, 1992

Tooth Wear and the Sexual Division of Labour in an Inuit Population

The purpose of this thesis is to distinguish patterns of wear that can be attributed to the use of the teeth as tools. In particular, it examines the sexual division of labour within an arctic population of Inuit and attempts to correlate gender based differences in tooth use with patterns of dental wear.

In many ways, Inuit groups are ideal for such a study. There is both documented ethnographic evidence for use of teeth as tools by various Inuit populations, as well as morphological evidence for the adaptation of the Inuit cranium for the generation and dissipation of heavy vertical occlusal forces, in particular for anterior biting. Combined with this evidence is a well developed sexual division of labour and a lack of task specialization among the Inuit. Therefore, with the basic assumption that the diet is the same for both the men and the women, any differences in wear or trauma between the genders may be ascribed to the use of the teeth in a paramasticatory function.

The specific focus of this study is the Sadlermiut population of Southampton Island. The Sadlermiut were an isolated group of Inuit who perished in the winter of 1902-03 as the result of a European introduced epidemic. Eighty-one individuals from this collection were examined: 30 females, 32 males, six individuals of unknown age and sex and 13 subadults. One thousand and eighty-three teeth were looked at. Observations of the teeth focused primarily on the degree of wear, antemortem trauma, including chipping, flaking and crushing of the teeth, as well as any sort of unusual surface forms including grooving that could point to tool use of these teeth. Also examined were patterns of ante- and postmortem loss and abscessing. Epoxy casts of the teeth were made for future study.

A series of hypotheses were tested in a comparison of teeth both between the genders as well as between different sections of the mouth. Statistically significant differences were found in wear, chipping, flaking, pitting, the presence of buccal striations, labial rounding and grooving both between the mouth parts in the population as a whole, and between the genders. Further gender differences were discovered in post- and antemortem loss and abscessing. All were related to what is know of the Sadlermiut way of life, sexual division of labour and their use of the teeth as tools. The thesis illustrates that gender differences in tooth wear and trauma related to the use of teeth as tools can be found, and it may be possible to generalize from these finding to populations in which the use of teeth as tools, as well as a sexual division of labour, are only suspected.