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

Fraility, Social Identity and Treponemal Disease in the Southeastern US


Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, Mississippi State University

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Treponemal disease studies are ubiquitous in bioarchaeology, but most address the diseases’ geographic and demographic profiles. Little is known about past relationships between the functional, social and health related costs of infection, especially among prehistoric populations. This study investigates these relationships in a sample from the Morton Shell Mound Collection, a multicomponent, commingled site dating to the Coles Creek Period (AD 700-1200). Historical and anecdotal evidence suggests that poor overall health exacerbates the symptoms of treponemal disease. Historical evidence also shows that the disfiguring and debilitating effects of treponemal disease can reduce social status in sufferers. It is therefore hypothesized here that a negative synergy exists between overall health, treponemal disease, and social status over the life course. Employing the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis, this study tests for relationships between early life health indicators, namely linear enamel hypoplasia, severity of treponemal disease, later life health indicators, namely caries, and mortuary indicators of social status, using a population-based rather than individual skeleton-based approach. Preliminary results suggest that the Morton shell mound sample exhibits very high frequencies of treponemal disease, with 50% manifesting lesions suggestive or specific to treponemal disease (N=60), and moderately high rates of caries (25%). Social status will be reconstructed through analysis of differential patterning of mortuary archaeology, including burial pattern, burial location, and post mortem processing.

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