The Uto-Aztecan Premolar Among North and South Amerindians: Geographic Variation and Genetics

Miguel E. Delgado-Burbano, G. Richard Scott, and Christy G. Turner II

The Uto-Aztecan premolar (UAP) is a dental polymorphism characterized by an exaggerated distobuccal rotation of the paracone in combination with the presence of a fossa at the intersection of the distal occlusal ridge and distal marginal ridge of upper first premolars. This trait is important because, unlike other dental variants, it has been found exclusively in Native American populations. However, the trait’s temporal and geographic variation has never been fully documented. The discovery of a Uto-Aztecan premolar in a prehistoric skeletal series from northern South America calls into question the presumed linguistic and geographic limits of this trait. We examined published and unpublished data for this rare but highly distinctive trait in samples representing over 5,000 Native Americans from North and South America. Our findings in living Southwest Amerindian populations corroborate the notion that the variable goes beyond the bounds of the Uto-Aztecan language family. It is found in prehistoric Native Americans from South America, eastern North America, Northern and Central Mexico, and in living and prehistoric populations in the American Southwest that are not members of the Uto-Aztecan language stock. The chronology of samples, its geographic distribution, and trait frequencies suggests a North American origin (Southwest) for UAP perhaps between 15,000 BP and 4,000 BP and a rapid and widespread dispersal into South America during the late Holocene. Family data indicate that it may represent an autosomal recessive mutation that occurred after the peopling of the Americas as its geographic range appears to be limited to North and South Amerindian populations. Link

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