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Bioarchaeological analysis of diet during the Coles Creek period in the southern Lower Mississippi Valley.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 144:30–40 (2011)
Bioarchaeological Analysis of Diet During the Coles
Creek Period in the Southern Lower Mississippi Valley
Ginesse A. Listi*
Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
KEY WORDS
dental pathologies; Coles Creek diet; dietary transition
ABSTRACT
The timing of the dietary shift from foraging to maize agriculture, and the speed at which such
practices were adopted, are important considerations in
the cultural evolution of the New World. In the southern
Lower Mississippi Valley, maize agriculture traditionally
was believed to have been practiced during the Coles
Creek period (A.D. 700–1200); however, direct evidence
for maize is lacking in the archaeological record prior to
A.D. 1000. The present study examines Coles Creek diet
from a bioarchaeological perspective. Oral-health indicators, including abscesses, antemortem tooth loss, calculus, carious lesions, periodontal disease, and tooth wear,
were evaluated in a regional, temporal context. Data
were collected from 288 dentitions from eight sites in the
southern Lower Mississippi Valley that range in date
from 800 B.C. to A.D. 1200. The sample then was sepa-
rated into Pre-Coles Creek and Coles Creek categories
and statistical analyses were used to assess temporal
variation in pathology load. Results indicate that pathology load in the Coles Creek sample is slightly heavier
than the Pre-Coles Creek sample; however, the differences are not substantial. Furthermore, data suggest that
regional differences in resource exploitation existed
between the Lower Mississippi Valley and populations
elsewhere in the eastern United States. Specifically, the
presence of starchy native plants other than maize in
the diet likely contributed to a high pathology load for
early hunter-gatherers. Ultimately, data from this study
complement the archaeological, botanical, and zooarchaeological records and indicate that Coles Creek subsistence was not based on maize agriculture. Am J Phys
Anthropol 144:30–40, 2011. V 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Archaeologists have long recognized the relationship
between diet, population size, and social complexity (e.g.,
Schoeninger and Shurr, 1994). In the Lower Mississippi
Valley, complex societies, as indicated by increasing
population density, regional mound centers, and the
emergence of hierarchically ranked societies are first
recognized during the Late Woodland Coles Creek period
(A.D. 700–1200; Kidder, 1992a, 2002). Based on the
number and widespread distribution of sites and the
assumed correlation between social complexity and agriculture, archaeologists originally believed that Coles
Creek diet was based on maize agriculture (Byrd and
Neuman, 1978; Haag, 1978; Williams and Brain, 1983).
However, little direct evidence for maize has been found
in the Lower Mississippi Valley prior to A.D. 1000 (Fritz
and Kidder, 1993; Fritz, 1995; Kidder, 2002).
The present study investigates Coles Creek diet from
a bioarchaeological perspective within the context of the
dietary transition in the southern Lower Mississippi
Valley by examining the frequency and interaction of
multiple oral health indicators (including dental caries,
calculus, periodontal disease, antemortem tooth loss,
abscesses, and tooth wear). Two hundred eighty-eight
adult dentitions were examined from eight sites that
range in date from 800 B.C. to A.D. 1200. The sample
then was divided into Pre-Coles Creek and Coles Creek
categories and statistical analyses were used to assess
variation in pathology load between the two groups. As
numerous bioarchaeological studies have demonstrated a
relationship between high carbohydrate diets and a
decline in oral health (Turner, 1979; Larsen, 1984, 1995,
1997; Norr, 1984; Perzigian et al., 1984; Smith, 1984;
Berry, 1985; Powell, 1985; Schmucker, 1985; Lukacs,
1989; Larsen et al., 1991), the hypothesis underlying
this research is that a change in diet during the Coles
Creek period from hunting-gathering to maize agriculture would be evident in the pathology load. Specifically,
when compared to the Pre-Coles Creek sample, the
frequency of all pathological conditions would be higher
in the Coles Creek sample, with the exception of tooth
wear, which would be lower.
C 2010
V
WILEY-LISS, INC.
C
COLES CREEK CULTURE AND DIET
The Coles Creek period in the Lower Mississippi River
alluvial valley is delineated by radiocarbon dates from
approximately A.D. 700 to 1200; thus, it straddles the
divide between the Late Woodland and Early Mississippian periods as defined for the southeastern United
States as a whole (Jeter and Williams, 1989; Kidder,
1992a). The Coles Creek period often is described as a
dynamic time during which significant changes occurred
throughout the Lower Mississippi Valley. These changes
included variation in ceramic styles as well as increases
in population size and site size and complexity (Kidder,
1992b, 2002). Along with these changes, archaeologists
originally supposed that subsistence practices changed
as well, namely, the dietary transition from huntinggathering to maize agriculture (Byrd and Neuman, 1978;
*Correspondence to: Ginesse Listi, LSU Geography and Anthropology, 227 Howe-Russell Building, Baton Rouge, LA 70803.
E-mail: glisti1@lsu.edu
Received 13 January 2010; accepted 26 May 2010
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21364
Published online 18 August 2010 in Wiley Online Library
(wileyonlinelibrary.com).
BIOARCHAEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF COLES CREEK DIET
Haag, 1978; Williams and Brain, 1983; Neuman, 1984).
The evidence for this supposition was indirect: the
locations of Coles Creek sites along the fertile alluvial
bottomlands beside streams and rivers would have been
ideal for plant cultivation; the relative predictability and
high product yield of an agricultural subsistence base
not only would have supported the increase in population size that occurred during this time, but also would
have been necessary to provide sustenance for the large
labor force required to build the extensive earthworks
that are characteristic of Coles Creek sites. While such
indirect evidence is no longer accepted as a basis for
inferring subsistence, this logic was used as recently as
the 1980s (Williams and Brain, 1983). Meanwhile,
archaeological and botanical data began to accumulate
which suggested that a dietary transition had not
occurred.
Botanical evidence from the interior Lower Valley indicates that maize was present as early as the eighth or
ninth centuries A.D. (Scarry, 1993); however, its incidence in the archaeological record is rare. For example,
at one Coles Creek site in which maize has been found,
the overall low frequencies recovered and the contexts in
which it was found (e.g., middens, specialized features
with tobacco) led researchers to conclude that maize was
a relatively minor food source and may have been tied to
ritual behavior rather than subsistence (Fritz and
Kidder, 1993; Kidder and Fritz, 1993). Conversely, substantial data exist which demonstrate that Coles Creek
populations exploited a variety of other botanical resources, including nuts, fruits, and wild, or possibly,
cultivated plants (Kidder and Fritz, 1993; Fritz, 1995;
Roberts, 2000; Kidder, 2002).
With regard to material culture, not only are Coles
Creek pottery assemblages indistinct from other Late
Woodland cultures, but also artifacts suggestive of plant
cultivation (e.g., hoes) are not abundant at Coles Creek
sites (Kidder, 1992a). On the other hand, artifacts
related to the procurement (including the bow and
arrow) or processing of food are ubiquitous throughout
the Lower Mississippi Valley and provide ample support
that Coles Creek populations exploited natural resources
through hunting, gathering, and fishing (Williams and
Brain, 1983; Neuman, 1984; Kidder, 1992b; Fritz, 1995;
Jackson and Scott, 2002). Correspondingly, zooarchaeological evidence from Coles Creek sites consistently
attests to the importance of wild game and/or aquatic
resources in the diet (Springer, 1980; Mariaca, 1988;
Jeter and Williams, 1989; Colburn and Styles, 1990;
Kelley, 1992; Smith, 1996; Jackson and Scott, 2002;
Kidder, 2002).
Bioarchaeologically, data from the Lower Mississippi
Valley, including the Coles Creek period, generally are
sparse: human remains typically are fragmented and
poorly preserved, thus, sample sizes are small, individuals are often incomplete and commingled, and few pathological conditions have been assessed (Jeter et al., 1989;
Rose and Harmon, 1999). Most of the previously available bioarchaeological data relating to the Coles Creek
period, compiled and presented in two noteworthy publications (Jeter et al., 1989; Rose and Harmon, 1999),
consisted of demographic profiles or the analysis of one
or two pathological conditions appended to site reports,
monographs, or unpublished manuscripts. The few osteological studies that have been undertaken report that
Coles Creek skeletons exhibit a pathology load that is
different from earlier groups, particularly for tooth wear
31
and carious lesions (Rose et al., 1984, 1991). These
researchers conclude that the change in pathology load
was due to an increase in carbohydrates and grit in the
diet. However, since direct evidence of maize is virtually
absent in the archaeological record, they suggest the
high carbohydrate content came instead from native
starchy plants or seeds (Rose et al., 1984, 1991). Lastly,
unpublished stable isotope data, though rare, are available for several sites in the southern Lower Mississippi
Valley and indicate that maize consumption was
minimal or absent at these sites (Bruce Smith, personal
communication to author, 2003).
Prehistoric diet is best understood using a multidisciplinary approach that combines botanical, zooarchaeological, and bioarchaeological evidence (Sobolik,
1994). While archaeological and botanical research in
the southern Lower Mississippi Valley challenges the
traditional view of Coles Creek subsistence as maize
agriculture, bioarchaeological research that incorporates
a wide range of osteological data has not been undertaken. The current study addresses this deficiency by
using multiple oral health indicators to assess Coles
Creek diet in a comprehensive, systematic way. The
distinct pathology profiles exhibited in hunter-gatherers
and agriculturalists provide contrasting expectations by
which data can be interpreted (Lukacs, 1989). The broad
temporal span, yet relatively narrow geographic focus, of
the skeletal populations included in this study allow
pathology load to be analyzed through a regional diachronic framework.
MATERIALS
A total of 288 adult dentitions were examined from
eight sites in the southern Lower Mississippi Valley.
Skeletal remains from the individual sites were excavated at different times by different people over a span
of nearly 40 years (from the mid 1930s to the early
1970s). Currently, remains from individual sites are
catalogued and curated in museum collections in compliance with NAGPRA. The temporal span for the sites
extends from 800 B.C. to A.D. 1200. Based on these
dates, all remains were classified into two broadlydefined temporal categories that separated the Coles
Creek sample from the Pre-Coles Creek sample. Figure 1
depicts the location of each site in the Lower Mississippi
Valley. Table 1 provides a summary of the skeletal samples and MNI used in this study.
The Pre-Coles Creek sample is comprised of 144 individuals from five sites. These mound and/or midden sites
include Little Woods (16OR1-16OR5) and Tchefuncte
(16ST1), located in coastal regions of Louisiana, and
Lafayette Mounds (16SM17), Greenhouse (16AV22), and
Mount Nebo (16MA18), which are located in interior
regions (see Fig. 1). The majority of the Pre-Coles Creek
sample dates to the Tchula period, Tchefuncte culture
(800 B.C. to 100 B.C.); however, the burials from
Greenhouse and Mount Nebo date later to the Baytown
period, Troyville culture (approximately A.D. 400 to
700), (Ford and Quimby, 1945; Ford, 1951; Giardino,
1977, 1982; Lewis, 1991; Kidder, 2002).
Pre-Coles Creek burial patterns include both primary
and secondary, single and multiple interments. Many of
the remains were flexed and/or bundled, but some individuals were extended. Grave goods generally were not
found; therefore, burials were dated based on site
stratigraphy (Ford and Quimby, 1945; Neuman, 1984).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
32
G.A. LISTI
Fig. 1. Approximate locations of sites used in current study.
TABLE 1. Sites and minimum number of individuals (MNI) for
Pre-Coles Creek and Coles Creek samples
Pre-Coles Creek
(800 B.C. to A.D. 700)
Site
N
Greenhouse
Lafayette
Little Woods
Mount Nebo
Tchefuncte
Total
16
31
45
11
41
144
Coles Creek
(A.D. 700 to 1200)
Site
Greenhouse
Lake George
Lake St. Agnes
Morton Shell Mound
Mount Nebo
N
30
25
3
75
11
144
The exception is Mount Nebo: artifacts, which might
have been grave offerings, were found with several of
the individuals and were used to obtain a relative date
for the burials at that site (Giardino, 1982).
Detailed subsistence data are not available for any of
the Pre-Coles Creek populations used in this study.
However, during this period in the Lower Mississippi
Valley, deer generally is the most common mammal
species present in site middens (Neuman, 1984). Various
smaller mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds are present as
well, and Rangia remains are prevalent at coastal sites
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
(Neuman, 1984; p 118). Thus, subsistence for the PreColes Creek populations is believed to have been a mix
of hunting, gathering, and fishing (Ford and Quimby,
1945; Neuman, 1984; Jeter and Williams, 1989).
The Coles Creek sample is comprised of 144 individuals from five sites, four of which are located in interior
regions (Greenhouse (16AV22), Lake George (22YZ557),
Lake St. Agnes (16AV26), and Mount Nebo (16MA18)),
one of which is coastal [Morton Shell Mound (16IB3); see
Fig. 1]. All sites are multicomponent, but the burials
included in this sample date to the Coles Creek period
(A.D. 700–1200). All are mound sites and may have
served ceremonial or ritual purposes; none is strictly
habitational or residential. Therefore, individuals buried
at these sites could represent ‘‘elite’’ or ‘‘special’’ members of the population and may not be representative of
the entire population that inhabited the area or utilized
the sites (Ford, 1951; Belmont, 1967; Robbins, 1976;
Giardino, 1977, 1982; Toth, 1979; Williams and Brain,
1983; Neuman, 1984; McGimsey, 2003); (Saunders and
Byers, unpublished).
A common characteristic of Coles Creek burials is the
apparent lack of order in which human remains were
deposited (Ford, 1951; Williams and Brain, 1983). Burials include single and multiple interments, bundled,
BIOARCHAEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF COLES CREEK DIET
flexed, or extended individuals, and isolated elements.
Grave goods generally were not present; therefore, either
stratigraphy or radiocarbon dates obtained from samples
taken from the same stratigraphic layers were used to
date the burials (Ford, 1951; Belmont, 1967; Giardino,
1977, 1982; Toth, 1979; Williams and Brain, 1983;
Neuman, 1984; McGimsey, 2003).
METHODS
Skeletal remains from all sites were in various states
of preservation and fragmentation, ranging from friable
fragments held together by dirt matrix and preservative
to well-preserved specimens. Some elements were heavily fragmented, while others were whole. Some individuals were only partially represented; others were nearly
complete. MNIs reported in Table 1 were determined by
the number of dentitions present. For single interments,
a whole or partial dentition represented one individual.
In the case of multiple interments, if a maxilla and mandible could be reliably associated together based on similar size and tooth morphology, they were counted as a
single individual; otherwise, each element was considered separately.
All individuals were ‘‘Adults’’ (greater than 18 years
of age), based on eruption of the third molars. However,
specific age ranges and sex were not able to be assigned
for the majority of the individuals due to fragmentation
and commingling. In single burials, while some individuals had an os coxae complete enough to suggest an age
range or sex, the ossa coxarum of others were too fragmented to assess, or were not present at all. Age ranges
and sex were not assessed in commingled remains due to
the impossibility of reconciling postcranial elements with
dentitions.
33
Data collection procedures
Every tooth or tooth position was assessed as either
present, lost antemortem, lost postmortem, or not able to
be analyzed. Each tooth or alveoli subsequently was
examined macroscopically for pathological conditions. A
low magnification binocular microscope was used if
the determination of the pathological condition was
questionable.
For the assessment of carious lesions, the presence
and location of each carious lesion were recorded following guidelines in Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994). To differentiate between true carious lesions and natural noncarious pits and fissures (i.e., buccal pits), an attempt
was made to determine whether or not and the extent to
which the dentin underlying the enamel was affected
(Aufderheide and Rodriguez-Martin, 1998; Ortner, 2003).
If a buccal pit was present but the extent of dentin damage could not be discerned, the lesion was noted, but not
included in the analyses of carious lesions prevalence.
Tooth wear was evaluated for the first molars only.
This tooth was selected because it was preserved more
often per individual than second or third molars and,
therefore, was the most numerous. Wear was analyzed
based on Scott’s methodology (1979; see also Buikstra
and Ubelaker, 1994): the occlusal surface was divided
into quadrants, a score of 1–10 was assigned to each
based on the amount of enamel present, and the quadrant scores were then totaled. If the crown was broken
or portions were missing, the tooth was not scored.
For recording dental calculus, a score was assigned to
each tooth based on the amount of calculus present
(based on Brothwell, 1981; see also Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994). The ordinal categories (examples of which
are pictured in Fig. 2) ranged from no calculus present,
through small, moderate, and heavy amounts present.
Fig. 2. Dentitions showing different levels of calculus: none (A), slight (B), moderate (C), and heavy (D).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
34
G.A. LISTI
Fig. 3. Dentitions showing different levels of periodontal disease: none (A), less than one-half root absorption (B), greater than
one-half root absorption (C), alveolar remnants (D, arrow), and complete alveolar resorption (D, posterior corpus).
The assessment of periodontal disease was based on a
scale that standardizes the progressive deterioration of
the alveolar region for each tooth (Lukacs, 1989). The
ordinal categories (examples of which are pictured in
Fig. 3) ranged from no resorption, through minimal (in
which less than one-half the tooth root is exposed),
moderate (in which more than one-half the tooth root is
exposed), heavy (where only remnants of the alveolus
remain), and complete resorption of the alveolus.
Antemortem tooth loss (AMTL), which also corresponds to the most advanced stage of periodontal
disease, was assessed using the initial recording of the
presence or absence of each tooth. Teeth lost prior to
death were indicated by the complete resorption of the
alveolus (depicted in Fig. 3D).
For abscesses, Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994) recommend recording the presence or absence of periapical
abscesses and their location (buccal or lingual). In this
study, the same information was recorded for periodontal
abscesses as well. Data on both types of abscesses were
combined for analyses of temporal variation.
Data analysis
Several methods were used to analyze the pathology
load in the two samples. Population frequencies were
calculated using the tooth count and individual count
methods for all pathological conditions except tooth wear
(for which only the average per molar was calculated).
With the tooth count method, the number of teeth
affected with pathology is counted relative to the total
number of teeth available for study (Lukacs, 1989).
These frequencies are reported for each individual site
as well as for the collective Coles Creek and Pre-Coles
Creek samples.
In the individual count method, the number of individuals with the particular pathology is counted and divided by the total number of individuals present in the
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
sample (Lukacs, 1989). This method is used to report
summary statistics and the average number of carious
lesions per individual for each individual site as well as
for the collective Coles Creek and Pre-Coles Creek
samples. However, for samples in which individual preservation is varied and many specimens are incomplete,
the individual count method can result in skewed data.
Thus, an alternative technique called the mean number
of pathologies per specimen (MNPS) also was used to
calculate pathology load (Moore and Corbett, 1971;
Lukacs, 1989). In this method, the number of teeth or
alveoli affected with the pathological condition is divided
by the number of teeth or alveoli available for assessment per individual (Moore and Corbett, 1971). The
MNPS values are reported for each individual site as
well as for the collective Coles Creek and Pre-Coles
Creek samples.
Temporal variation in pathology load was tested statistically using an independent samples t test for the average tooth wear and MNPS for each pathological condition. A chi-square was used to assess variation in the severity of calculus and periodontal disease between Coles
Creek and Pre-Coles Creek samples. For all analyses,
the null hypothesis was that subsistence was the same
for both Pre-Coles Creek and Coles Creek populations.
That is, no significant differences would exist between
the two samples in the MNPS or average tooth wear.
Significant differences (if P \ 0.05), therefore, would be
indicative of a change in diet.
RESULTS
Tables 2–5 list the individual and tooth counts for
each site and for the collective Coles Creek and PreColes Creek samples. Based on individual counts, the
frequency increased through time for carious lesions,
abscesses, AMTL, and calculus, but decreased through
time for periodontal disease. Based on tooth counts, the
35
BIOARCHAEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF COLES CREEK DIET
TABLE 2. Frequencies of dental caries based on individual and tooth counts
Individual count
Tooth count
Naff/Ntota
%
Avg.
Naff/Ntota
%
2/15
3/15
0/7
3/11
6/30
14/78
13.3
20.0
0
27.3
20.0
17.9
0.13
0.33
0
0.72
0.33
0.32
2/143
5/87
0/17
8/111
10/240
25/598
1.4
5.7
0
7.2
4.2
4.2
3/29
15/25
1/3
17/68
3/9
39/134
10.3
60.0
33.3
25.0
33.3
29.1
0.17
1.60
0.33
0.29
0.44
0.52
5/234
40/477
1/14
20/247
4/68
70/1,040
2.1
8.4
7.1
8.1
5.9
6.7
Pre-Coles Creek sites
Greenhouse
Lafayette
Little Woods
Mount Nebo
Tchefuncte
Total
Coles Creek sites
Greenhouse
Lake George
Lake St. Agnes
Morton Shell Mound
Mount Nebo
Total
a
Naff 5 number of teeth or individuals affected with pathology; Ntot 5 total number of teeth or individuals available for
assessment.
TABLE 3. Frequencies of abscesses and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL) based on individual and tooth counts
Abscesses
Individual count
Pre-Coles Creek sites
Greenhouse
Lafayette
Little Woods
Mount Nebo
Tchefuncte
Total
Coles Creek sites
Greenhouse
Lake George
Lake St. Agnes
Morton Shell Mound
Mount Nebo
Total
AMTL
Tooth count
Naff/Ntota
%
5/14
4/24
0/18
4/11
12/29
25/96
35.7
16.7
0
36.4
41.4
26.0
7/164
7/178
0/71
12/95
25/193
51/701
11/29
11/25
0/3
14/65
2/10
38/132
37.9
44.0
0
21.5
20.0
28.8
31/374
19/422
0/20
29/382
4/67
83/1,265
Individual count
Naff/Ntota
Tooth count
%
Naff/Ntota
%
Naff/Ntota
%
4.3
3.9
0
12.6
13.0
7.3
4/16
9/31
11/45
3/11
9/41
36/144
25.0
29.0
24.4
27.3
22.0
25.0
7/225
33/343
44/287
4/133
30/611
118/1,599
3.1
9.6
15.3
3.0
4.9
7.4
8.3
4.5
0
7.6
6.0
6.6
15/30
11/25
0/3
13/75
4/11
43/144
50.0
44.0
0
17.3
36.4
29.9
55/553
49/608
0/51
40/566
6/110
150/1,888
9.9
8.1
0
7.1
5.5
7.9
a
Naff 5 number of teeth or individuals affected with pathology; Ntot 5 total number of teeth or individuals available for
assessment.
TABLE 4. Frequencies of dental calculus and periodontal disease based on individual and tooth counts
Calculus
Individual count
Pre-Coles Creek sites
Greenhouse
Lafayette
Little Woods
Mount Nebo
Tchefuncte
Total
Coles Creek sites
Greenhouse
Lake George
Lake St. Agnes
Morton Shell Mound
Mount Nebo
Total
Periodontal disease
Tooth count
Naff/Ntota
%
Naff/Ntota
9/15
12/13
4/7
7/11
28/31
60/77
60.0
92.3
57.1
63.6
90.3
77.9
21/27
21/25
3/3
53/68
6/8
104/131
77.8
84.0
100.0
77.9
75.0
79.4
Individual count
Tooth count
%
Naff/Ntota
%
Naff/Ntota
49/125
53/84
12/17
31/110
190/240
335/576
39.2
63.1
70.6
28.2
79.2
58.2
14/14
17/24
19/21
7/11
28/34
85/104
100.0
70.8
90.5
63.6
82.4
81.7
106/130
56/132
65/75
63/90
148/218
438/645
81.5
42.4
86.7
70.0
67.9
67.9
89/223
294/465
11/12
178/244
37/61
609/1,005
39.9
63.2
91.7
73.0
60.7
60.6
25/28
24/25
3/3
34/69
6/10
92/135
89.3
96.0
100.0
49.3
60.0
68.1
277/308
306/420
10/16
125/263
31/50
749/1,057
89.9
72.9
62.5
47.5
62.0
70.9
%
a
Naff 5 number of teeth or individuals affected with pathology; Ntot 5 total number of teeth or individuals available for
assessment.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
36
G.A. LISTI
frequency increased for carious lesions, AMTL, calculus,
and periodontal disease, but decreased for abscesses and
tooth wear. The decrease in tooth wear through time is
significant (Table 5).
Table 6 displays the MNPS scores and the results of
the independent samples t tests. Only periodontal disease (which decreases) shows significant variation
through time.
Table 7 depicts the frequencies for each category of
calculus and periodontal based on tooth and/or alveolar
counts. For calculus, the distribution of data is similar for
each sample. Also, though 58–61% of each sample has
calculus, the majority of teeth have a ‘‘small’’ amount as
opposed to ‘‘moderate’’ or ‘‘heavy’’ amounts. While the
frequency of calculus increases slightly through time, the
severity decreases. This temporal change is not significant. For periodontal disease, as with calculus, the
frequency increases through time; however, the severity
decreases. This variation is significant (P \ 0.01).
DISCUSSION
The present study explores Coles Creek subsistence
from a bioarchaeological perspective within the context
of the dietary transition in the southern Lower Mississippi Valley. As the transition occurred (and with it, an
increase in the consumption of carbohydrates), the expectation was that all pathological conditions except
tooth wear would increase from the Pre-Coles Creek to
the Coles Creek period. Table 8 summarizes the temporal trends in data compared to expectations. Though
results vary somewhat depending on methodology, data
initially appear to support expectations. That is, 12 of 18
categories of data are consistent with expectations for an
increase in carbohydrate consumption during the Coles
Creek period. However, a straightforward interpretation
TABLE 5. Mean wear scores for first molars
Pre-Coles Creek Sites (N 5 89, n 5 99)
Greenhouse
Lafayette
Little Woods
Mount Nebo
Tchefuncte
Average
Coles Creek sites (N 5 132, n 5 156)
Greenhouse
Lake George
Lake St. Agnes
Morton Shell Mound
Mount Nebo
Average
T-test: t 5 3.993
M1
28.4
26.4
20.6
33.3
30.0
29.1
M1
28.4
25.5
20.0
23.4
21.9
25.0
Sig. 5 0.000*
‘‘*’’ indicates that relationship is statistically significant.
of these data as indicative of dietary change is confounded by several factors which include sample biases
and potential intersite and interregional differences in
resource exploitation.
The condition of the skeletal remains examined in this
study is less-than-ideal; therefore, sample biases associated with preservation and demography (or lack thereof)
could be impacting the results. The former biases are
alleviated somewhat by using multiple methods to calculate population frequencies. Of the three methods used
in this study, the individual and tooth counts, which are
commonly reported in the literature, assume dentitions
are complete. Only the MNPS statistic takes into
account individual preservation. Nevertheless, obtaining
consistent results from these different methodologies
might indicate that the impact of differential preservation is minimal. As demonstrated in Table 8, temporal
patterns are consistent only for two of the five pathological conditions assessed with multiple methodologies (e.g.,
carious lesions and calculus). Therefore, differential
preservation likely is affecting the results for abscesses,
AMTL, and periodontal disease.
The lack of demographic data also is inhibiting data
interpretation. Ideally, skeletal samples should be representative of the entire population, as opposed to a small,
specialized subset (e.g., only adults, children, or elite
members) though Wood et al. (1992, p 344) argue that
no skeletal sample can completely represent the original
living population, ‘‘even (one) that is a perfect random
sample of all those who died.’’ Additionally, comparability in age and sex distribution among samples is important because of the influence of biological parameters
(particularly age) on pathology load. Most pathological
conditions are progressive; therefore, a population consisting primarily of older adults could exhibit higher frequencies of pathology than a population composed of
younger adults, simply because they are older. In this
study, because specific adult age categories could not be
assigned for the majority of the individuals, the extent
to which age may be affecting the results cannot be
determined. Thus, the possibility that the temporal variation in pathology load seen in this study is related to
differences in age rather than diet cannot be excluded.
Despite the difficulties presented above, the collections
included in this study, while not ideal, represent the
larger and more well-preserved skeletal samples available for analysis from the Lower Mississippi Valley. As
such, they currently are the best (and only) alternative
for researching prehistoric diet in this region from a bioarchaeological perspective. However, in recognition of
the potential biases affecting the samples, results presented here are conditional with the provision that,
should additional materials become available in the
future, hypotheses for temporal variation in diet can be
reconsidered.
TABLE 6. Results of the independent samples t test of the MNPS statistic for all dental pathologies
AMTLa
Abscesses
Pre-Coles Creek
Coles Creek
t-value
Significance
Calculus
N
Mean
N
Mean
N
96
132
0.08
0.06
144
144
0.08
0.07
77
131
1.232
0.219
0.636
0.525
AMTL 5 antemortem tooth loss; POD 5 periodontal disease.
‘‘*’’ indicates that relationship is statistically significant.
a
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Mean
0.58
0.60
20.410
0.682
PODa
Caries
N
78
134
Mean
0.05
0.09
21.596
0.112
N
Mean
104
135
0.70
0.55
2.722
0.007*
37
BIOARCHAEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF COLES CREEK DIET
TABLE 7. Summary statistics and results of chi-square for severity of calculus and periodontal disease
Severity of calculus
None
Pre-Coles Creek
Coles Creek
Chi-square
Small
Moderate
N
%
N
%
241
396
41.8
39.4
270
520
46.9
51.7
Heavy
Total
%
Naffa
Ntota
%
61
10.6
4
0.7
84
8.4
5
0.5
X2 5 4.514; df 5 3; Sig. 5 0.211
335
609
576
1005
58.2
60.6
N
%
N
Severity of periodontal disease
\½ Root
None
Pre-Coles Creek
Coles Creek
Chi-square
N
%
N
%
207
308
32.1
29.1
220
535
34.1
50.6
[½ Root
Remnants
N
N
%
%
Resorbed
N
39
6.0
78
12.1
101
75
7.1
39
3.7
100
2
X 5 80.596; df 5 4; Sig. 5 0.000*
Total
%
Naffa
Ntota
%
15.7
9.5
438
749
645
1057
67.9
70.9
a
Naff 5 number of teeth or individuals affected with pathology; Ntot 5 total number of teeth or individuals available for
assessment.
‘‘*’’ indicates that relationship is statistically significant.
With regard to intersite variation in pathology load,
summary data are presented for individual sites. However, data were not assessed statistically not only
because the focus of the research is regional in scope
(rather than local), but also because the resulting samples sizes would have been too small to yield meaningful
results. Nevertheless, some general observations can be
made. For the Pre-Coles Creek populations, while none
of the populations has a consistently light or heavy pathology load, Little Woods has no observed caries or
abscesses and is in the lower range of data for AMTL
and calculus (based on individual counts). Generally,
intersite data for the Pre-Coles Creek sample are comparable, though the range of variation exhibited in the frequencies of some pathological conditions is greater than
in others (i.e., calculus and periodontal disease are more
variable than caries, AMTL, and tooth wear).
For the Coles Creek sample, Lake George is conspicuously different from the other populations in its caries
data: the individual count is considerably higher than
the others and it is the only population that averages
more than one carious lesion per individual (Table 2).
For all other pathological conditions (as well as for caries
tooth counts), none of the Coles Creek populations
stands out as having a consistently light or heavy pathology load (including Lake George). On the other
hand, the range of variation among Coles Creek populations exhibited in the frequencies of some pathological
conditions is greater than that found in the Pre-Coles
Creek sample. This latter fact, together with the caries
data for Lake George, may suggest that intraregional
variation in diet existed during the Coles Creek period
with some populations consuming greater quantities of
carbohydrates than others.
In addition to the potential intraregional variation in
diet during the Coles Creek period, apparent interregional variation in resource exploitation is hindering the
assessment of temporal trends in pathology load based
on ‘‘normal’’ expectations. All of the Pre-Coles Creek populations are believed to have been hunter-fisher-gatherers (Ford and Quimby, 1945; Kidder, 2002). Elsewhere in
North America, such populations typically exhibit low
rates of dental pathological conditions (with the exception of tooth wear; Cohen and Armelagos, 1984). The pathology load in the Pre-Coles Creek sample, therefore, is
higher than anticipated, particularly for calculus and
TABLE 8. Expectations and data trends between Pre-Coles
Creek and Coles Creek samples
Dental pathologies (individual count)
Abscess frequency
AMTL frequency
Calculus frequency
Caries frequency
Caries average/individual
Periodontal disease frequency
Dental pathologies (tooth count)
Abscess frequency
AMTL frequency
Calculus frequency
Calculus severity
Caries frequency
Periodontal disease frequency
Periodontal disease severity
Wear (M1)
Dental pathologies (MNPS)
Abscess average
AMTL average
Calculus average
Caries average
Periodontal disease average
Expectationa
Trend
in data
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
2
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
2
2
1
1
2
1
1
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
2
1
1
2
a
A ‘‘1’’ indicates an increase through time; a ‘‘2’’ indicates a
decrease through time.
periodontal disease (the frequencies of these two pathological conditions are 58 and 68% (based on tooth counts)
and 78 and 82% (based on individual counts, respectively). These results suggest that resource exploitation
for hunter-gatherers in the Lower Mississippi Valley differed from that of other regions in eastern North America. Archaeologists have long reported that populations
in the Lower Mississippi Valley relied on locally-available resources that, in addition to the abundant animal
and aquatic species, included a host of starchy plants
other than maize (such as amaranths, chenopods, goosefoot, little barley, maygrass, and knotweed), (Smith,
1986; Fritz and Kidder, 1993; Kidder and Fritz, 1993;
Fritz, 1995; Roberts, 2000; Gremillion, 2002; Kidder,
2002). The presence of these plants in the diet must be
contributing to the higher-than-expected pathology load
for the Pre-Coles Creek populations.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
38
G.A. LISTI
Despite the unusually high Pre-Coles Creek pathology
load, the Coles Creek sample nevertheless has higher
frequencies of most pathological conditions. However,
with the exception of periodontal disease and tooth wear,
the differences are neither significant (when tested statistically), nor substantial (when noted through general
observation), regardless of which method is used to analyze data. For example, based on tooth counts, increases
in pathology load between samples vary only by 0.5 to
3%. Increases in pathology load based on individual
counts are slightly higher, ranging from 1.5 to 11.2%.
These slight increases in pathology load could signify a
minor increase in carbohydrate consumption during the
Coles Creek period, but they would not indicate a complete change in diet. Thus, at a time when populations
elsewhere in eastern North America were increasing
their reliance on domesticated plants, those in the Lower
Mississippi Valley continued to rely on abundant natural
resources, some of which included starchy plants.
The supposition that Coles Creek populations were not
maize agriculturalists is further supported when comparing carious lesions data between the Coles Creek
sample and agricultural populations from the southeastern United States. Larsen et al. (1991) report carious
lesion frequencies of 58.9% (based on individual counts)
and 19.4% (based on tooth counts) for Precontact Agricultural populations from the Atlantic Coast of Georgia
and Florida (dating to approximately A.D. 1150–1550).
Similarly, Powell (1991) reports carious lesions frequencies of 54% (based on individual counts) and 18.7%
(based on tooth counts) for the agricultural population at
Moundville, located in western, central Alabama (dating
to approximately A.D. 1000–1450). Conversely, the frequencies of carious lesions for the Coles Creek sample
are well below those values: 29% (based on individual
counts) and 6.7% (based on the tooth counts). Though
such comparisons to the literature can be problematic
due to methodological differences among researchers, the
similarity between the agricultural populations and dissimilarity between the agricultural and Coles Creek data
are notable.
CONCLUSION
Coles Creek diet traditionally was believed to have
been based on maize agriculture due to the number, size,
and complexity of Coles Creek sites. However, direct evidence in the form of maize kernels and pollen generally
has been lacking. Instead, zooarchaeological and botanical evidence suggests that Coles Creek populations were
supported by native plant, animal, and aquatic natural
resources rather than agriculture, though some cultivated plants may have supplemented the diet. The present study considered Coles Creek subsistence from a bioarchaeological perspective: the dentitions of 288 adults
from eight sites in the Lower Mississippi Valley ranging
in date from 800 B.C. to A.D. 1200 were examined for
multiple oral health indicators and statistical analyses
were used to assess temporal changes in pathology load.
Results from this study, though provisional because of
sample biases, demonstrate that hunter-gatherers in the
southern Lower Mississippi Valley have a higher pathology load than typically found in other areas of Eastern
North America due to the presence in the diet of starchy
plants other than maize. Additionally, the pathology load
during the Coles Creek period is slightly heavier than
that of the Pre-Coles Creek period; however, the differAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
ences are neither significant, nor substantial. Thus, an
increase in carbohydrate consumption, whether from
starchy plants already present in the diet or, possibly,
the introduction of maize in some areas (i.e., Lake
George), was minimal and occurred on a local level, if at
all. Ultimately, this study complements the botanical,
zooarchaeological, and artifactual records and provides
bioarchaeological support that Coles Creek diet was not
based on maize agriculture.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The author thanks the following individuals for their
assistance with various aspects of this research: Dr.
Rebecca Saunders and Mr. Steve Fullen, Louisiana State
University Museum of Natural Science; Dr. Michele Morgan, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology,
Harvard University; Dr. John Verano, Tulane University;
Ms. Mary Lee Eggart, Cartographer, Louisiana State
University Department of Geography and Anthropology;
Ms. Mary Manhein, Louisiana State University Forensic
Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services Laboratory; and the Editor, Associate Editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions.
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