Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Anthropology and Ethnic Studies

First Committee Member

Bernardo Arriaza

Second Committee Member

Barbara Roth

Number of Pages



This research uses a predictive model based on dental health to test the hypothesis that maize dependence gradually increased among human groups in the Sonoran Desert over the course of the Early Agricultural period (1500 B.C.--A.D. 200). The hypothesis is tested by recording a suite of ten dental observations that correlate with this fundamental change in subsistence on a sample of 246 prehistoric human skeletons dating to the Early Agricultural period recovered from La Playa (SON F:10:3), Sonora, Mexico. The sample is evenly distributed among demographic variables, burial treatments, and location within the site. Erosion of the burials, however, restricted dental observations to a sub-sample of 157 dentitions. The dentitions vary in completeness from a single dental segment to a complete adult complement of 32 dental segments; Dental health among the La Playa burial population is highly variable, ranging from relatively even wear with little detectable dental pathology to extreme angled attrition and completely endentureless individuals. Dental health and wear indicates a mixed economy based in the exploitation of wild resources and maize agriculture that remained relatively stable throughout the Early Agricultural period. It is further suggested that maize may have entered the region earlier than many postulate and was a firmly established part of the diet prior to the inception of the San Pedro phase (circa 1500 B.C.), and that San Pedro groups were largely settled communities tied to agricultural production on the rich valley floodplains. The dental evidence additionally identifies internal sexual and possibly social divisions that may have resulted from increased productivity and reliance on maize, and increased populations. These social dynamics may have led to an increase in the mechanical processing of maize between the San Pedro (1500--800 B.C.) and Cienega (800 B.C.--A.D. 200) phases that is additionally evidenced by an increase in molar wear angle.


Agricultural; Agricultural Transition; Cavities; Cob; Dental; Dental Health; Health; Mexico; Sonora; Transition

Controlled Subject

Physical anthropology; Archaeology

File Format


File Size

8376.32 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




If you are the rightful copyright holder of this dissertation or thesis and wish to have the full text removed from Digital Scholarship@UNLV, please submit a request to and include clear identification of the work, preferably with URL.


IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit