Coca chewing in prehistoric coastal Peru: Dental evidence

Etty Indriati, Jane E. Buikstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


In this study, we describe the dental health of four prehistoric human populations from the southern coast of Peru, an area in which independent archaeological evidence suggests that the practice of coca-leaf chewing was relatively common. A repeated pattern of cervical-root caries accompanying root exposure was found on the buccal surfaces of the posterior dentition, coinciding with the typical placement of coca quids during mastication. To further examine the association between caries patterning and coca chewing, caries site characteristics of molar teeth were utilized as indicators for estimating the likelihood of coca chewing for adults within each of the study samples. Likelihood estimates were then compared with results of a test for coca use derived from hair samples from the same individuals. The hair and dental studies exhibited an 85.7% agreement. Thus, we have demonstrated the validity of a hard-tissue technique for identifying the presence of habitual coca-leaf chewing in ancient human remains, which is useful in archaeological contexts where hair is not preserved. These data can be used to explore the distribution of coca chewing in prehistoric times. Simultaneously, we document the dental health associated with this traditional Andean cultural practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-257
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Cervical-root caries
  • Coca chewing
  • Oral pathology
  • Peru
  • Posterior teeth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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