Surprisingly Healthy Teeth Write a New Chapter in Ancient History

Very healthy teeth: oral biology and pathology is a reflection of diet, and the people of Olmos demonstrated excellent oral health, likely linked to a rather healthy and diverse diet.  Photo: H. Klaus.
Very healthy teeth: oral biology and pathology is structured strongly by long-term patterns of diet. The people of Olmos demonstrated excellent oral health likely linked to a rather high-quality and diverse diet. (Photo by Hagen Klaus)

Haagen Klaus studies the ancient and mysterious remains of societies along Peru’s northern coastal areas. A recent project has seen him racing against the clock in the modern-day town of Olmos to rescue skeletons from a looming construction project and the scathing rains of El Niño. Here, he presents the findings from his most recent field season.

The Skeletons of Olmos: Surprising New Findings on Middle Sicán Civilization

If you recall from my first post, I described Peru’s ancient Middle Sicán state (A.D. 900-1100). The Middle Sicán culture was multi-ethnic, technologically precocious, and very hierarchical. A very significant gap of social and economic power separated an ultra-powerful leadership from those they ruled. Most of the non-elites appear to have been Muchik peoples—the descendants of the earlier Moche. The Olmos skeletons had the potential of answering key, unresolved questions about identity, social structure, and human biology within this historically pivotal civilization.

Who was living in these far northern reaches of Middle Sicán territory? Were they the bridge between the Lords of Sicán and Ecuador? Could they have been a colony of the mysterious Tallán peoples, or a far-flung enclave of Sicán citizens? Were these people allies or enemies of the Middle Sicán state?

Here I am, gathering genetic information for the study of inherited tooth sizes by measuring the teeth of one of the Olmos individuals using a digital caliper. (Photo courtesy Haagen Klaus)

Patterns in the Burials

The bioarchaeology of identity is a complex area of study, linking with many kinds of archaeological, skeletal, and behavioral evidence. In this case, one of the first clues —> Read More