The intimate relationship between mother and infant, since the first moments after conception, contributed to shaping the evolution of our species and its behaviour. The mother-infant nexus changed through time adapting to environmental changes, new subsistence economies and social constraints. Yet, how the biocultural transitions across human evolution influenced the mode and time of pregnancy and nursing of human infants is under-investigated. MOTHERS aims to reconstruct the evolution of the mother-infant relationship in past human populations throught the analysis of their dental tissues.

MOTHERS Project’s Work Packages

Investigating the variability of dietary models in dental enamel

This package aims to deepen the knowledge about trace elements transfer from foodstuffs to developing enamel. A consistent set (N=100) of exfoliated or extracted teeth from contemporary individuals with well-known dietary and anamnestic history will be characterized through high-resolution odontochronologies of the elemental profiles through laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS).

Modelling the mother-infant nexus in past human populations

This package studies archaeological, subfossil and fossil specimens (N=451), from the Upper Palaeolithic to Early Medieval time, from Italy and Croatia. Advanced statistical models built upon WP1 will be applied to the archaeological and palaeoanthropological series, to disentangle dietary modification patterns associated with the major biocultural transitions. High-resolution LA-MC-ICPMS will be used to explore mother-infant mobility during early life.

Detection of the end of weaning

Two approaches will be pursued: 1) series of later-in-life forming teeth from archaeological horizons, will be analysed through LA-ICPMS to explore the possible changes of the chemical signals suggesting the end of weaning and the transition to an adult diet; 2) a set of paired first and third molars – to capture respectively early infancy and early adolescence – to understand the end of weaning modalities through LA-ICPMS and diet-related stable isotopes of root serial sections, run in parallel.

Investigating herbivore domestication

The management of wild/semi-wild herds for milk exploitation has a profound implication for alloparental cares in prehistoric populations. MOTHERS’ WP4 will take advantage of the profound differences in the chemical signal left by breastmilk vs herbivore milk in human dental enamel. This work package aims to contribute to the understanding of the early phases of herbivore domestication through the direct observation of the introduction of non-human milk into the nursing infant’s diet.