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Oral health of the prehistoric Rima Rau cave burials, Atiu, Cook Islands.

Clark, A.L., Stantis, C., Buckley, H.R. and Tayles, N., 2020. Oral health of the prehistoric Rima Rau cave burials, Atiu, Cook Islands. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 50 (1), 158-177.

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NZJR-2019-0064.R1_Proof_hi (1).pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.


DOI: 10.1080/03036758.2020.1730414


The human skeletal remains buried in the cave of Rima Rau on the island of Atiu, have long been a subject of speculation as to their origins. Oral histories of a massacre, battle, famine and cannibal feast surround the sacred site. The local Atiuan community invited a group of bioarchaeologists from the University of Otago to help shed light on the people buried in the cave. We examined nearly 600 skeletal elements and 400 teeth, which represent at least 38 adults and 8 infants and children. This research is the assessment of their oral health, a first for a prehistoric Cook Island population. Oral health was within the range of other tropical Pacific skeletal assemblages, for dental caries, antemortem tooth loss, and supragingival calculus, with low rates of periodontal disease and periapical cavities. Degeneration of the temporomandibular joint was high and this was associated with enamel chipping, possibly linked to diet. Enamel defect prevalence indicates sex-specific health differences, but the population was robust with a good proportion who survived to adulthood despite periods of early childhood stress. Through the consideration of a skeletal census and oral health indicators, we begin to describe the burials in the cave.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:prehistory; oral pathology; Polynesia; diet; skeletal census; commingled remains; bioarchaeology
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:33789
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:23 Mar 2020 13:56
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:21


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