Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Human Remains - The Plains

Frison, George C.,  with contributions by Bruce A. Bradley, Julie E. Francis, George W. Gill, James C. Miller
1991 Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. 2nd Edition. In Human Skeletal Remains on the Northwestern Plains, written by George W. Gill, pp. 431-447. Academic Press Inc., San Diego.

This chapter is dedicated to presenting the most recent information, (as of 1991) on human remains discovered on the Northwestern Plains. It used to be that human remains were seldom found, but since construction has been increasing across the country, many more remains are being discovered. This chapter covers five main aspects of human remains, these are, Practices of Burial, Microevolutionary Changes, Dental Caries, Diet, and Disease, Warfare and Injury, and Biological Affinities.
Burial Practices covers a wide variety of burial types: intentional, ritual, natural, homicide, processed and others. In this section trends are also discusses. To summarize, the trends discussed include the progression and of grave goods, what types are found at each different time period, and how the items become more advanced as time goes on. The placement and position in which the bodies are typically found, and the possible significance of different orientations is also discussed.
Microevolutionary Changes describes morphological patterns of craniofacial traits, how the significance of these traits changed over time, as well as the currently accepted interpretation of those traits. In addition to this, population traits are discussed. Cranial and facial traits in relation to stature, and how the different populations of the Northwestern Plains display these characteristics differently. There is also a discussion which eventually strengthens the hypothesis regarding the possibility that the Wyoming Red Desert people originated from the Southwest region, due to the many similar traits between the two population groups. Several other traits and their significance are discussed briefly, these are: nutrition in relation to stature, cranial length and breadth, and nose form. Trends are also discussed in this section, as well as two key questions surrounding the change in cranial vault height since the Archaic. These questions are, “did gene flow work with natural selection, or independent of it?” and, “does this change in cranial height correlate best with alterations in biomechanical forces, such as changes in dental or facial function and morphology, or does it correlate more with alterations in brain function and anatomy?” Two other main traits are also discussed in this section: alveolar prognatism and reduced nasal sills.
Dental Caries, Diet, and Disease discusses just those three things. This section discusses how the majority of the prehistoric populations of the Northwestern Plains, especially those of the Plains Archaic, were very healthy, showed almost no signs of periostitis or other skeletal manifestations of chronic infections, the rate of infectious diseases was probably quite low, and there is evidence that people lived very long lives. By the Late Prehistoric times however, life appears to have become more demanding, and thus earlier death becomes more common. The dental health of the Northwestern Plains reveals a very low rate of caries; only 2.37% out of a sample of 718 teeth. This low rate is typical of hunter and gatherer societies, in which the consumption of carbohydrates is very low. By the Protohistoric/Historic period, the rate of caries doubles to 4.93% (out of a sample of 1427 teeth), this is due to the increase of carbohydrate consumption occurring because of the shift to a mixed economy, (both hunting and gathering as well as farming).
Warfare and Injury appear to increase with the beginning of the Late Prehistoric. This section goes into detail about several possible wartime deaths, as well as one case where the man survived life-threatening injuries, as is shown in the remodeling of the bones on his skull.
Biological Affinities discusses the possibilities of a few different modern day American Indian groups, and their possible relations to the Northwestern Plains groups. Discussed, are several different traits, and how they correlate with the modern day groups. The strongest possible matches found appear to be related to the Shoshonean people. Currently though, there are still not enough samples to determine anything conclusively with either the Shoshonean or the many other groups who are curious.
The goals of all this research and data collection are to gain cultural information from the skeletons. The author wants to be able to learn about religious practices, culture change, diet, disease, migration, conflict, and social interactions. Currently, the sample sizes are large enough to begin research on many of these, and in fact some trends have already been discovered in culture change and in microevolution. The whole question about archaic skeletal traits is still in need of much research. This as well as many more detailed questions are still in need of answers, but fortunately, a great start has already been made. With a few more samples, and a lot more research we will someday discover the answers to all these critical questions.

Keith, Kenneth D., and Clyde C. Snow
1976 The Gore Pit Skeleton: Earliest Dated Human Burial From Oklahoma. The Plains Anthropologist. 21.74: 283-290.

This article presents us with a new date for the earliest dated human burial from Oklahoma, as well as explaining many different characteristics of this specific burial. Before 1968 when this new skeleton was excavated, the oldest human burial discovered in Oklahoma was C14 dated at 1640 B.C. plus or minus 175 years. This new skeleton, which was found in April of 1968 was C14 dated at 5150 B.C. plus or minus 350 years.
This article covers in detail many aspects of this skeleton. We find out the approximate age and stature, as well as probable sex, physical anomalies, and tooth wear. It is determined that this particular skeleton most likely belonged to a robust female, approximately 25-35 years old, who was at least five feet two inches tall, but possibly taller due to the fact that Mongoloids typically have longer trunks, and the height determination was calculated using the humerus. In addition to this, the teeth showed severe dental attrition, which is typical of prehistoric Indian groups. There were also several anomalies of the maxillary dentition: a periapical abscess of the right maxillary first molar which caused a very wide spread infection, a median diastema between two medial incisors, modification of the dental arcade and hypodontia. Finally, there was no clear cause of death found, but there are two semi-circular fractures of the right parietal, which resemble that which is usually associated with an blunt force injury. This injury if untreated could have been the cause of death, but we cannot know for sure.
According to the author, the most interesting aspects of this skeleton have to do with the dental abnormalities and the possible implications of the cranial vault lesions. The author hopes that this report will be valuable in the interpretation and synthesis of archaeological site data.
This article is important in the fact that it presents new data regarding human burial, as well as typical health factors from a much earlier time than previously discovered. This is important not only for understanding possible health factors, but for the greater understanding of people of this era and location as a whole. If more information from this time period is discovered, we will be able to have a greater understanding of the lifestyles from this time period and location, but with the information in this article we are already of to a great start in understanding different aspects of life that were previously unknown.

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