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

Environmental and Dietary Variation During the Dallas Phase in East Tennessee


Cultural Compliance, Tennessee Valley Authority

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East Tennessee River Valley environmental data suggests appreciable variation in the quality and quantity of arable land and average rainfall and temperature that may have affected prehistoric maize based agricultural practices during the Mississippian Period. Dental health offers an excellent proxy for reconstructing paleodiet to examine if observed environmental differences influenced subsistence behavior during this period. Dental data was collected from skeletal samples for four East Tennessee Late Mississippian/Dallas Phase (AD 1300-1600) archaeological sites. These sites are located in different reservoirs in East Tennessee representing the greatest regional environmental variation.

Adult dentition (N=9,084 teeth) was macroscopically examined for carious lesions, dental calculus, and linear enamel hypoplasia. Results suggest regional differences in diet and morbidity among Dallas phase samples in which environmental differences may have played a significant factor. Statistical analysis indicate significant differences (chi-square, p=>0.05) in caries rates, number of anterior teeth affected, and calculus rates that may indicate differences in carbohydrate (i.e., maize) consumption among these groups. The results of the analysis indicate a significant correlation between less arable land and average rainfall and lower caries and calculus rates. Greater frequencies of linear enamel hypoplasia recorded among the samples representing areas with the least amount of arable land and average rainfall may be suggestive of greater susceptibility of environmental perturbations and dietary stress. While most investigations dental health focus on major subsistence shifts or large scale inter-regional differences, this study demonstrates the importance of examining smaller scale intra-regional differences in diet and morbidity.

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