A comparison of signs of nutritional stress in prehistoric populations of the Potomac Piedmont and Coastal Plain
The transition from less intensive to more intensive agriculture was examined in skeletal populations excavated from sites in the Potomac Piedmont and Coastal Plain. Sites in the Piedmont represent small villages located on naturally fertile siltloam where agriculture was practiced along with hunting and gathering. The same pattern is true of the Coastal Plain except that the villages were larger, more centralized, crowded and palisaded. There is evidence that the transition from hunting and gathering to sedentism and agriculture was accompanied by a deterioration in health status. This study attempted to determine whether or not further signs of stress were apparent as agriculture intensified. The skeletal material was examined for differences in stature and robusticity. Developmental disturbances as evidenced by enamel hypoplasias and Harris lines were also observed. Dental pathology in the form of carious lesions, periodontal disease, abscesses and antemortem tooth loss was also recorded, as were signs of infection (periosteal inflammation) and iron deficiency anemia (cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis). The results show that, while not all differences were significant, the Coastal Plain population fared somewhat better than did the Piedmont group. Significant differences were seen in the incidences of dental caries and antemortem tooth loss. More people in the Piedmont exhibited these lesions, although the average number of lesions per person was not significantly different between the two populations. There was a significantly increased incidence of enamel hypoplasia among the Piedmont group and the number of hypoplastic lesions per person was significant at the 0.1 level. Since this is a developmental disturbance, it was suggested that the oysters which are available in increased proportions in the Coastal Plain might have supplied enough calcium to individuals as they matured so that hypoplasia was not as prevalent. Caries and antemortem tooth loss in the Piedmont, usually a result of high carbohydrate diets, may be an artifact of the extremely small Piedmont sample. In this study, there was no sign of increased nutritional stress as the populations changed from less intensive to more intensive agriculture. Indeed, it appears that a natural environment resource may offset the deleterious effects of a high carbohydrate diet.