Institute of Archaeology


Cara Hirst

Biomechanical adaptations of the human mandible in relation to dietary changes occurring over time


Email: Cara.hirst.13@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Archaeological Sciences



Biomechanical adaptations of the human mandible in relation to dietary changes occurring over time

Modern human diet and lifestyle has changed dramatically over the course of human history, with rapid changes occurring relatively recently. The sedentary lifestyle and soft, sweet processed diet that typifies modern western populations has been made possible through technological advancements. Despite these advancements, and the apparent benefits of modern lifestyle, there are numerous associated health problems associated with modern western lifestyle. Studies have suggested that modern lifestyle contributes to a number of diseases which are virtually absent from hunter-gatherers. In addition to the increase in dietary related diseases, several studies have recorded changes in mandible morphology over time, with significant changes in the mandible being associated with specific dietary transitions. It has been suggested that the decrease in the size of the cranio-facial complex is related to the increasingly soft diet consumed by modern populations, which subsequently has been associated with the increase in several disorders including malocclusion and TMJ disease.

My research strives to examine the relationship between human dietary behaviour, including dietary composition and food processing behaviours; and the mandible and mandibular dentition. This shall be accomplished by analysing the changes in mandible morphology and dental pathology over time among British skeletal assemblages, using landmark based 3D geometric morphometric analysis. And recording the prevalence of dental caries and calculus.

Other interests include the status of digital data in archaeology, such as the issues of ownership of 3D scans for archaeological research. Currently this is a matter which has not been considered by curators of archaeological human remains, and as digital methods are becoming more popular it is necessary to consider that status of 3D scans.


    • MSc, Skeletal and Dental Bioarchaeology, UCL, 2013
    • BSc, Biological Anthropology, University of Kent, 2012
    Conference papers

    "Mandibular Asymmetry: An analysis of asymmetry in the mandible among British archaeological assemblages and the implications this has on GMM studies and reconstruction methods." Presented MORPH Conference 2016, London; May 2016

    "Reconstructing 3D scans: Increasing digital archaeological samples" Presented at World Archaeology Congress 8, Kyoto; September 2016