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

Are coastal diets healthy? Examples from the Northern Pacific Rim


1Anthropology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2Anthropology, The University of British Columbia, 3Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo

Saturday Afternoon, Council Suite Add to calendar

An abundant number of studies are pointing to the colonization of the New World taking place via coastal migrations around the Pacific Rim. While many of these sites are likely submerged, others have survived and provide valuable components in reconstructing diet and health. In particular, dietary adaptations to new and changing environments and their health consequences are of interest. Specifically, is a coastal/maritime diet healthy? Maritime diets are nutrient rich but they also present challenges in the form of parasites and possible vitamin deficiencies. In the archaeological record, key rubrics of health are traditional odonto-skeletal biomarkers such as enamel hypoplasia frequencies, dental caries, dental and/or cranio-facial asymmetry, porotic hyperostosis, and cribra orbitalia: some of these markers form during growth and development and some later in adulthood. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic data aid in dietary reconstruction of proteins consumed in the last 10 to 30 years of life. Using both bioarchaeological and isotopic data, we can shed light on the effectiveness of a particular dietary adaptation on the population level. We present cross-regional and diachronic data from Japan, China, and the Pacific Northwest coast in a comparative frame to other published data from these regions (including Alaska). Hunter-gatherer bioarchaeological data represent several sites across three islands of Japan (Hokkaido, Honshu, and Kyushu) and date from the Jomon Period (4000-300 BCE) into the agricultural Yayoi period on Honshu and Kyushu and the Okhotsk Period on Hokkaido). Analysis generally suggests that coastal diets provide adequate nutrition and coastal populations are healthy.

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