The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Diet, dental health, and food acquisition in the prehistoric San Francisco Bay Area: bioarchaeology of the Ellis Landing Ohlone population


1Department of Anthropology, UC, San Diego, 2Department of Anthropology, CSU, Chico

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Bioarchaeological research often combines multiple lines of evidence in an effort to reconstruct the past lifeways. We evaluate the diet, health and food acquisition patterns of an Ohlone population through stable isotope and paleopathological analysis of individuals from the Ellis Landing site (CA-CCO-295), a late Holocene shellmound in the San Francisco Bay Area (ca. 3740 B.P. to 760 B.P.). Previous stable isotope research demonstrated that there was a high level of dietary variability in the population. The mean values for δ13C of -14.3‰ and for δ15N of 14.7‰ indicate consumption of marine resources with significant dietary contributions from C3 ecosystems. The only significant difference found was between male and female δ15N values (z = 2.143, p = .032). Although significant, this difference is small (males 0.5‰ higher than females) and may not be meaningful.

However, by including more comprehensive bioarchaeological data, a more complete picture of Ohlone prehistory can be interpreted. Previous research suggests that auditory exostoses are linked to the exploitation of marine resources in cold water. At Ellis Landing, males were the only individuals who exhibited auditory exostoses. If auditory exostoses have a behavioral etiology, then this suggests that males were the primary procurers of marine dietary resources, possibly explaining the difference in nitrogen values. Overall good dental health at the site supports the expectation that marine food consumption resulted in low rates of dental caries and alveolar abscesses in the populations.

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