The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Osteoarthritis and Resource Intensification in Prehistoric Central California


Department of Anthropology, California State University, Chico

Thursday 8:30-8:45, 200ABC Add to calendar

Zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical data from Central California document a shift from the use of lower-cost, higher-ranked resources toward the greater use of higher-cost, lower-ranked resources during the late Holocene. Archaeological evidence suggests an increased reliance on acorns through time, concomitant with a more sedentary lifeway. These changing subsistence patterns likely influenced sexual division of labor practices, including intensive plant processing activities and greater logistical mobility to acquire key game resources away from village sites. Framed within the context of resource intensification models, these trends correspond to declines in human health documented in previous bioarchaeological research.

Bioarchaeologists study osteoarthritis to infer changes in physical activity and functional stress in past societies. This study investigates the prevalence of osteoarthritis in the appendicular skeleton during three periods of Central California prehistory: the Early (4500-2800 BP), Middle (2800-1200 BP), and Late (1200-200 BP) Periods. Adult individuals (n=284) were examined from seven sites in the prehistoric Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region. Preliminary results indicate that the prevalence of osteoarthritis in the upper limb did not change through time, but increased in the hip joint of both sexes during the Late Period. Additionally, no significant differences between males and females were identified for all three time periods, suggesting relatively equal stress levels between the sexes. The temporal increase in lower limb osteoarthritis supports the hypothesis of increased logistical mobility over time to procure key resources away from the village sites. Changes in the patterning, but not activity levels, may explain why sex differences were not observed.

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