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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Jesse S. Cook III [mailto:jesse_cook@JUNO.COM] Sent: Sunday, November 03, 2002 11:58 AM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Fw:
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 4, 2002
      -----Original Message-----
      From: Jesse S. Cook III [mailto:jesse_cook@...]
      Sent: Sunday, November 03, 2002 11:58 AM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: [ANTHRO-L] Fw: PaleoNews

      Source: Ohio State University
      Date: 11/1/2002

      Health Of American Indians On Decline Before Columbus Arrived In New

      COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The health of indigenous people in the Western
      was on a downward trajectory long before Columbus set foot in the
      researchers say. The rise of agriculture is partly to blame, said Richard
      Steckel, a professor of economics and anthropology at Ohio State
      University. The
      demands of tending domestic crops encouraged people to settle in larger
      communities, where disease was more easily spread.

      The rise of towns and cities during industrialization took a serious toll
      health, but new evidence establishes a very long trail of poor health
      followed the collective pre-Columbian efforts in creating modern
      civilization, Steckel said. He co-edited a book that looks at health
      in the Western Hemisphere throughout the last seven millennia.

      According to some archeologists, the urban revolution began long before
      Europeans settled the Americas. Sophisticated cities flourished and
      throughout North and South America once people mastered agriculture.
      Researchers believe that indigenous people began domesticating crops more
      than 5,000 years ago. The current research suggests that the overall
      health of the average person declined with the development of
      agriculture, government and urbanization.

      We know that certain health problems increased thousands of years before
      Columbus set foot in the New World, Steckel said. We also know that
      indigenous cities were thriving by then, particularly in Central America.

      While the undisputed devastation of Indians in North and South America by
      New World immigrants has been the focus of historians who study the
      indigenous experience, patterns of health prior to the late 1400s have
      largely been ignored, Steckel said.

      He and his colleagues used a new tool called the health index to analyze
      more than 12,500 skeletons excavated from 65 sites in North and South
      America. The sites ranged in age from 5,000 BC to the late 19th century.
      The index helped researchers analyze skeletal remains and, in doing so,
      determine the extent of certain chronic health problems.

      Skeletons are warehouses of health history. They are the major source of
      information on the co-evolution of humans and disease, Steckel said.

      The researchers share their findings on the co-evolution of humans and
      disease in "The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western
      Hemisphere," (Cambridge University Press, 2002). Steckel edited the book
      with Jerome Rose, a professor of anthropology at the University of
      The project was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Ohio

      The book includes chapters on the health of Euro- and Afro-Americans in
      North America and Indians throughout North, Central, and South America.
      contributors gathered evidence on seven basic indicators of health used
      assess chronic conditions that affected people living in the Western
      Hemisphere during the last 7,000 years. The health index gave researchers
      the basic tools to evaluate and compare the health of societies living in
      various ecological zones.

      The index includes seven indicators of skeletal health measured at 65
      locations in the Western Hemisphere: degenerative joint disease, trauma,
      dental health, stature, anemia, enamel hypoplasias, and skeletal
      Each indicator was scored from zero to 100. Zero meant that the
      had had the worst possible case of the indicator, [and] 100 meant that
      skeleton had no sign of the affliction.

      The healthiest group, according to the index, lived along the coast of
      Brazil about 1,200 years ago. In fact, Indian groups were among the
      healthiest of all groups in the study. Indigenous sites occupied the top
      spots of the health index, and 11 of these sites predate Columbus
      These sites ranged in age from 75 to 7,425 years old, and covered
      in North and South America. The groups ranged from coastal city dwellers
      the Plains Indians of the American Midwest.

      But Indians also accounted for some of the most unhealthy groups,
      eight of the nine least-healthy slots on the index. The Zuni of Hawikku,
      Mexico, were ranked last. At least 400 years old, this site presumably
      its demise before European settlers made contact. Six other indigenous
      in the least-healthy category were dated at least 500 years before

      The index also included European and African American groups. With a rank
      28 out of 65, antebellum blacks buried at Philadelphias African Church in
      the 1800s were in the top half of the health index. This group had health
      superior to small-town, middle-class whites, Steckel said. It suggests
      that it was possible for a socially disadvantaged group to carve out a
      life with reasonably good health in an early 19th-century city, Steckel

      On the other hand, plantation slaves buried in a South Carolina site
      third to last on the health index.

      While its not surprising that slaves ranked lowest among the
      African-American sites, it is remarkable that the slaves were so near the
      bottom in overall rankings, Steckel said. Their health was comparable to
      pre-Columbian Indian populations threatened with extinction.

      Many of the healthiest groups included in the index lived along the
      Others lived in the interior of the United States, where they presumably
      hunted for and gathered food. The healthiest sites were typically the
      sites, substantially predating Columbus arrival. But equestrian nomads of
      the 19th century were also among the healthiest groups in the study.

      People living in rural settlements [had] typically healthy skeletons.
      {Those] found in these areas had less evidence of any of the negative
      health indicators than did skeletons excavated from large settlements.

      [Whereas] living in small settlements seemed to decrease the development
      spread of disease, congested living, laced with migration and trade,
      lead to a decline in health, Steckel said. Infections increased as people
      began congregating in cities, and the worldwide spread of disease had
      by the 1400s.

      The health index gives us one way to trace the emergence of modern
      as well as a way to track the early impacts that globalization had on the
      spread of disease. Studying historical data can help researchers learn
      about the resilience of health in developing countries, as many modern
      health problems have roots reaching deep into the past.

      But the long-term evolution of health and disease is not simply a story
      follows from the rise of settled agriculture and urbanization, Steckel
      There are other variables responsible for health, including climate,
      elevation, proximity to the coast and topography. The researchers plan to
      analyze future versions of the health index using such variables.

      The Western Hemisphere project has been a pilot for a project with global
      vision, Steckel said. We want to develop these tools and use them in
      archeological sites around the world.

      Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued for
      and other members of the public. If you wish to quote any part of this
      story, please credit Ohio State University as the original source.

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