Caprine Jaw Ageing

I help teach an undergraduate zooarchaeology class on a Tuesday morning. They learn basic zooarchaeology, and I largely help with the identification sections when they have a set of bones (usually two or three different elements, the ‘bones of the week’) and identify them to species. This week, however, is the session when the students are taught how to determine age-at-death from sheep and goat jaws, based on tooth eruption and wear. I made a flow chart to help students with this, which I’ve shared below. I had real trouble with this when I was an undergrad and making and following this flowchart helped me immensely!

The first few steps of the flowchart, available to download below.

Just like humans, caprine (sheep and goat) teeth erupt over time, with their baby (deciduous) teeth being replaced with permanent teeth. Based on which teeth are visible and which ones show signs of wear we can usually assign a broad age class to the jaw. If the caprine has its full adult dentition then we have to use wear to tell us the age. Because caprines have a consistent diet for most of their lives their teeth wear down in the same way. Dentine, a dark brown to creamy yellow colour (opposed to the white of the enamel) is exposed over time and forms patterns that relate to different age stages.

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Sheep mandible showing the deciduous (milk) teeth and the permanent premolars and molars.

Whilst there have been much more recent reviews of using caprine jaw ageing to calculate age-at-death, and beyond that herd structure analysis, Payne’s 1973 study of the caprine mandibles from Asvan Kale is still the one of the most commonly used methodology, and is the one taught in zooarchaeology class. I made a flowchart to help students age sheep and goat teeth using Payne, which I have found particularly useful myself. If anyone would find it useful, feel free to download it!

Caprine jaw ageing flow chart

It might be useful to read Payne’s original work (below) and have a diagram of a sheep jaw labelling the teeth (above!).



Payne, S. (1973). Kill-off patterns in sheep and goats: the mandibles from Aşvan Kale. Anatolian studies, 23, 281-303.



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