The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Elemental Signatures and Growth Defects in Teeth Show Differential Morbidity and Mortality tied to Variable Weaning and Dietary Practices among Missionized Guale on the Georgia Coast (ca 17th century)


Anthropology, University of Georgia

April 18, 2020 , Diamond 6 Add to calendar

The DOHaD hypothesis represents an important theoretical shift in bioarchaeology regarding how we interpret indicators of early life stress, adult health, and age-at-death. Considerations of cultural context, however, are necessary for more meaningful interpretations of links between childhood stress and subsequent mortality risk. This paper explores the implications of weaning age and diet for childhood stress and mortality risk among indigenous Guale interred at Mission SCDG (ca. 17thcentury) on St. Catherines Island, Georgia. One canine from 52 individuals were analyzed for internal enamel micro-defects (ASR) as indicators of childhood stress. Of these teeth, 28 were incrementally sampled for barium (Ba/Ca) values to estimate weaning age, and six were incrementally sampled for δ15N and δ13C values to reconstruct early life diet. Enamel defects are prevalent in the canines (96%), and individuals with the highest frequencies of ASR experienced increased risks for early death. Variations in childhood stress and subsequent mortality risk were in part related to weaning age and marine versus maize-based food consumption. A Cox hazard analysis indicates that weaning age is a significant predictor of age-at-death and ASR frequency. Moderate correlations also exist between ASR frequency and average post-weaning δ15N and δ13C values. These data suggest that individuals who weaned early and consumed less marine resources experienced heightened stress and mortality risks. Conversely, variations in these experiences indicate that while Spain’s political-economy was detrimental to indigenous health, some parents were faced with opportunities (e.g. weaning and dietary resources) to buffer their children from stress and long-term negative health outcomes.

This project was funded by a Sigma Xi and Society for Georgia Archaeology grant (Carey Garland), and a NSF Grant (#1628026) to the Elemental Analysis Facility at the Field Museum.

Slides/Poster (pdf)