April 27, 2012

Skeletal Indicators of Children's Health Status in a Prehistoric Southwestern Population

Lindsay O'Mara, Advisor: Susan Myster

Public health is at the forefront of the discipline of bio-archaeology. The field analyzes the human remains in archaeological contexts, determining cultural and environmental effects on the human skeleton. Until relatively recently, the most vulnerable members of a population were left out of this research. Children play an important role in any culture, and examining their health can provide insights into the subsistence practices and age-based status in a culture as well as determine the effects of disease processes and nutritional deficiencies on the skeleton. The advent of agriculture generally degraded the health and well-being of prehistoric populations, and the effects of that are especially salient in America's current, corn-based diet. Hamline University houses a skeletal population of people from the Mimbres cultural phase (1000-1150 AD) and region of the southwestern United States. In this study I seek out the health status of the children in this population based on skeletal indicators of growth interruption, disease and infection. Growth interruption is determined based on a comparison of dental eruption and long bone length, possible iron-deficiency anemia through the presence or absence of cribra orbitalia, and general infection through presence or absence of periostitis. Unfortunately, the small number and fragmentary nature of the children in this skeletal population make it nearly impossible to analyze trends between growth interruption and disease processes, but the prevalence of each demonstrates that Mimbres children were experiencing health stress, and the nature of these stresses indicates that the reason lay in their maize agriculture.