John C. Willman, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis, was awarded the 2015 Biological Anthropology Section Student Prize. Willman’s work explores non-masticatory dental wear, or the use of “teeth as tools”, among Neandertals and early modern humans. John presented in the session entitled “Advances in European Bioarchaeology and Mortuary Analysis” at the Denver AAA meeting this year. His podium presentation was entitled “Labret Use Among the Pavlovian Peoples of Mid Upper Paleolithic Central Europe: A New Interpretation of the Buccal Wear Facets at Brno III, Dolní Vestonice, Pavlov, and Predmostí.”
Abstract: The unusual “buccal facets” on the cheek teeth of early modern humans from the Mid Upper Paleolithic (MUP) Central Europe are well-documented, but the phenomenon remains poorly understood. A review of buccal wear facet prevalence at all relevant MUP sites, an analysis of age-related changes in the patterning of facets, and bioarchaeological and ethnographic comparisons suggest that phenomenon is related to intentional body modification – namely, the wearing of large, facial “labrets”.
Ethnographically, labrets are known as a form of personal adornment, permanently secured through incisions in the cheeks (or lips), and gradually stretched to incorporate larger labrets. Permanently fixed labrets in the MUP sample examined here is documented by the consistent presence of facets on the maxillary dentition across all age categories. The surface area affected by buccal facets also increases along an age gradient, providing evidence for gradual stretching to incorporate larger labrets during an individual’s lifetime. Children are affected, but prevalence reaches 100% in adolescents and adults. Only one side of the dentition is affected among children and adolescents, while one or both sides are affected in adults. When both sides exhibit facets, wear is asymmetric, suggesting that a second labret is related to aspects of adulthood.
Material evidence of labrets associated with individuals exhibiting buccal facets are known from several prehistoric contexts and strengthens these conclusions. The high prevalence of buccal facets and strong age-related patterning supports a case for labret use as a marker of individual and social identity among the MUP peoples of Central Europe.
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