Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Human Remains - The Southeast

Boyd, Donna C. and C. Clifford Boyd, Jr.
1989 A Comparison of Tennessee Archaic and Mississippian Maximum Femoral Lengths and Midshaft Diameters: Subsistence Change and Postcranial Variability. Southeastern Archaeology 8.2:107-116

There are many nutritional health changes associated with the shift from hunting and gathering to reliance upon maize agriculture. Most of the changes found in the cranium were “found to be detrimental in that increases in frequencies of skeletal indicators of stress (enamel hypoplasia, porotic hyperostosis) have been correlated with the shift to agricultural dependence.” However, the nutritionally poor maize is not the only contributing factor to this. With the transition to maize agriculture, came maize agriculture-associated malnutrition, with additional factors relating to increased settlement density and disease susceptibility, which were also contributing factors in these cranial changes. Some effects that subsistence change can have on the postcranial skeleton are changes in maximum long bone length and stature. Sexual dimorphism in stature appears to decrease through time, as well as overall reductions in the maximum length and stature of long bones are both attributed with the transition to agriculture.
In this Article there were a total of 524 individuals studied and compared. 97 of these individuals (43 females, 54 males) were from four Middle and Late Archaic Tennessee sites dating from 6000 to 1000 B.C. The other 427 individuals (184 females, 243 males) were from six Mississippian period sites, which reflect the Late Prehistoric Tennessee cultures dating from A.D. 1200 to 1600.
The four Archaic sites used in this study are Eva, Cherry, Ledbetter Landing, and Anderson; all located in Middle and West Tennessee. The six Mississippian sites (Mouse Creek, Rymer, Ledford Island, Dallas, Toqua, and Averbuch) are all located in Middle and East Tennessee.
When measuring maximum femur length and midshaft diameters, to keep the results as unbiased as possible, the right femur was used for measurement whenever possible, as well as the choice to use only adult skeletal materials (21-45 years old), and to separate the postcranial data by sex.
In this research, the goal was to compare the postcranial changes of the Archaic sites and of the Mississippian sites. What was determined by the data was that for half of the statistical comparisons, that there was indeed significant change in maximum femur length through time; whereas for the other half, there were no statistically significant changes in maximum femur length through time. Of the group showing significant changes in maximum femur length, all showed increases in maximum length across the time period examined, and there were no trends showing reduction in maximum length. This information contrasts all other preagricultural-agricultural skeletal series, which all show reductions in postcrainal size over time. In addition to these findings, the data also shows that sexual dimorphism of the femurs did not change at all within the 7500 year timespan covered. It was also determined that there were no significant changes in the midshaft structure over time, suggesting that the biomechanical geometry of the femur was not significantly altered by the transition to agriculture, and because these findings differ so much from the findings of other similar research which has been done in other areas, it is possible to conclude that Mississippian populations in Tennessee may have suffered less maize agriculture-induced nutritional stress than previously thought. However, through more research, it was found that in the Late Mississippian populations, there was a much higher infant mortality rate, and greater incidences of infectious diseases and malnutrition, possibly caused by increased sedentism and greater population aggregation. Regardless of the fact that there were so few changes to the postcranial skeleton over time, the Late Mississippian populations were still much more biologically stressed than their preagricultural Archaic predecessors.

Hedman, Kristin M.
2006 Late Cahokian Subsistence and Health: Stable Isotope and Dental Evidence. Southeastern Archaeology 25.2:258-274
This article looks into the idea of Cahokia as being “comprised of diverse subpopulations, whose differing lifestyles are reflected in their health and subsistence practices.” To do this, the researchers look at using stable isotope analysis to indicate dietary differences between two different Late Mississippian skeletal samples (Corbin Mounds and East St. Louis Stone Quarry (ESLSQ)). While these two sites appear to have consumed similar amounts of maize and protein, the isotopic signature of the two sites differ, which suggests variation in the source of protein. In addition to site differences, sex differences were also discovered within the ESLSQ sample, where it appears that males consumed C4-enriched protein, which was not regularly consumed by females in this group.
Originally elites ate less corn than the retainer women found with them, although maize was still very important in all social groups, as were signs of disease and infant mortality. Retainers, who were people of a lower social class, also showed signs of malnourishment. Later on, people began to disperse throughout the floodplain, mound settlement patterns changed, diets became more equalized, and the central power became less important.
Prior to the introduction of maize in A.D. 900, nearly all food sources available in the area were C3 plants and animals who consumed those plants. After the introduction of maize, it became the primary C4 plant in the diet for this area. Now while animals who consumed maize or other C4 plants could have contributed to the C4 enrichment, it is highly unlikely, due to there being very few animal sources of C4 enrichment confirmed, those being dog and some freshwater fish.
Both groups consumed comparable amounts of maize and protein, but due to a larger apatite-collagen spacing of the Corbin Mound sample, it appears that the protein consumed by these individuals was significantly more negative than that consumed by the ESLSQ. The upland Corbin Mound individuals most likely consumed more C3 nut protein and terrestrial fauna than did the floodplain ESLSQ individuals. This information correlates with other archaeological evidence found at the sites. This also helps to support ethnobotanical evidence of regional dietary differences between the upland and the floodplain populations. It also shows that ESLSQ males consumed more maize and C4 consuming animals than did ESLSQ females. Because this isotopic difference between sexes is only found in the ESLSQ sample and not the Corbin Mound, this suggests that these two groups’ feasting rituals, subsistence practices, or status or sex-based dietary preferences or practices may have differed.
Even through just examining the isotope analysis, it is clear that Cahokia is definitely a multi-ethnic society that is comprised of many different groups. And through this realization, it becomes our job to resolve the questions and issues surrounding these groups’ social changes as well as their regional variations.


  1. I really found the second annotated bibliography interesting. It really ties into an article I found and present as an annotated bibliography for the Woodlands region. The article was also about dietary patterns and stable isotopic analysis as well as dental morphology related to status and gender. The article I found was by Ambrose, Buikstra, and Krueger and they used stable isotopic analysis related to protein and carbon. Similar to the article by Hedman presented here, Ambrose et al. found that maize consumption was tied to status. Those with less protein in their diets and higher levels of plant foods, such as maize, were found in relation to low status individuals whereas those with more protein in their diets and low levels of plants foods were higher status individuals. Their article focused on the burials located within Mound 72 at Cahokia. In addition, Ambrose et al. looked at dental morphology of young adult females found buried together. Their results suggested that these females were of low status and that they may have been ritual sacrifices.

  2. Your first article by the Boyds was a bit surprising to me. It had always been my understanding that maize came to such widespread use because its nutrients were superior to that of the local foods a hunter and gatherer would collect. As the article implies, my assumption was most certainly mistaken. Now that I think about it, it does make sense for a hunter and gatherer to have a much more well rounded diet nutrient wise because they collect a much greater variety of foods, although I'm sure this depends upon what plants grow around where they live. I find it very interesting that archeologists can determine whether a society has adopted maize based on the measurements of human remains. This reminds of a news article that my father told me about once. According to him, the article talked about scientists could determine precise dates of when specific societies began to practice iron smelting due to the presence of a certain byproduct found in the bones of human remains.