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In the wake of Columbus Native population biology in the postcontact Americas.

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YEARBOOK OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 37:109-154 (1994)
In the Wake of Columbus: Native Population Biology in
the Postcontact Americas
CLARK SPENCER LARSEN
Department of Anthropology and Research Laboratories of
Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North
Carolina 27599-3120;and Department of Anthropology, American
Museum of Natural History, New York, New York 10024-5192
KEY WORDS
European contact, Bioarchaeology, Health, Disease, Lifestyle
ABSTRACT
The commemoration of the Columbian quincentenary
played a n important role in stimulating new research on the biological
effects of the arrival of Europeans on Native American groups throughout
the New World. Although these discussions have involved many disciplines,
physical anthropology has been underrepresented until recently. This article reviews a range of studies on the biological impact of European colonization of the Americas on native populations. Historical sources, mission
and civil records, archaeological information, and human skeletal remains
have provided a fund of data t h a t are being used to document and interpret
native health and well-being after 1492. Osteological investigations reveal
that before contact, native populations were not living in a pristine, diseasefree environment. Moreover, prehistoric populations experienced occasional
eruptions of social conflict and violence, patterns of which are similar to
what has been documented in contemporary small-scale societies. Archaeological, historical, and bioarchaeological studies provide compelling evidence that the arrival of Europeans did not occasion a sudden pandemic of
smallpox in the early sixteenth century. Rather, epidemic disease in the
contact era was a patchwork affair, striking some populations and not others a t various times. Regionally based bioarchaeological investigations
have disclosed new details about the contact period in the Americas and
elsewhere (e.g., Polynesia), particularly in regard to variability in physiological stress, health status, diet and nutritional quality, and activity patterns. These studies show that although rapid population loss and extinction occurred in some areas, many groups survived and accommodated new
and challenging circumstances. These findings also indicate that there are
common elements to native response to contact with Europeans, but population and regional changes were shaped by localized factors. The demographic resurgence and population recovery during the twentieth century
illustrates that Native Americans are a vital part of today’s human biological landscape in the western hemisphere. o 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
The five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas was
marked around the world by a n avalanche of public and scholarly events, including
conferences, museum exhibits, and symposia (reviewed in Axtell, 1992). In striking contrast to the fourth Columbian centenary, the subject of native peoples of the
Americas dominated the discussions, especially with regard to the impact of the
0 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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arrival of Europeans on Native American culture, society, and biology. Physical
anthropologists have provided essential, new data on the biocultural implications
of contact. With the passing of the quincentenary, I believe that it is important
that we take a look back and review some of the important research that was
stimulated in large part by this important commemoration.
The study of postcontact biological change is a deceptively simple and straightforward task. That is, didn’t native populations simply undergo remarkable decline in health and numbers once Europeans arrived? As a result of the introduction of so-called virgin soil epidemics, didn’t these populations basically evaporate
virtually overnight (or at least within the course of a generation or two)? Therefore, should not the biological record simply show lots of evidence of disease, dying,
and death as reflected in various indicators of health drawn from sources such as
historical narratives and human remains from archaeological sites? As my own
research unfolded over the course of the last decade or so, it became abundantly
clear that the scope of the problem was of far greater complexity than is oftentimes
presented in popular and some scholarly literature. Indeed, a rapidly growing body
of biological, archaeological, and historical evidence has begun to emerge strongly
suggesting that the postcontact biological change in native populations is multifactorial and complex.
Perusal of a gargantuan literature on contact indicates that biological topics
have largely focussed on rapid population decline in response to the introduction of
Old World infectious diseases (e.g., Alchon, 1991; Black, 1992; Cook, 1976a; Cook
and Lovell, 1991a; Crosby, 1972,1986; Diamond, 1992; Dobyns, 1983,1993; Hemming, 1978; Jackson, 1991; Lovell, 1992; Newsom, 1986; Perttula, 1992; Ramenofsky, 1987; Reff, 1991; Thornton, 1987; and many others). A consensus has emerged
emphasizing disease as the cause of the decline of native populations (e.g., Crosby,
1986). Although disease is certainly a n important consideration in interpreting
biological disruption, its emphasis has overshadowed a host of other important
consequences of contact such a s population relocation, forced labor, dietary change,
and other areas discussed below that have influenced health and well-being in
native groups during the last five centuries.
The purpose of this article is to survey the contributions of physical anthropologists and, where appropriate, allied specialists in developing a broader understanding of biological changes in Native American populations that resulted from
European contact. Specifically, the primary goals of this article are fourfold: 1)to
review the various data sources used to reconstruct or draw inferences about native population biology; 2) to examine the record of health and well-being before
contact; 3) to discuss various perspectives on native population size and evidence
for disease spread at the time of initial contact; and 4)to highlight current bioarchaeological research and its role in elucidating contact period human biology.
DATA SOURCES
An understanding of the effects of European contact on native groups in the
Americas requires the use of diverse kinds of data. Data sources include narrative
accounts, mission and municipal records, archaeological documentation, and human remains. All of these sources have strengths and weaknesses, but each have
the potential for providing important perspectives on contact-period population
biology, including areas such as demographic reconstruction, dietary history,
health status, and activity patterns.
Narratives
Numerous narrative accounts written by early explorers, colonizers, missionaries, and government officials document directly or infer indirectly issues related to
health status, diet and nutritional adequacy, disease, physical appearance, and
population size of specific native groups. In areas that saw dramatic population
losses early in the contact period, this information-frequently anecdotal-provides the only information on initial contacts and their effects on native groups.
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Unfortunately, these early sources are often misleading or are otherwise difficult
to interpret, leading to unsubstantiated conclusions about the nature of early
contact-period groups. In this regard, perhaps the most outstanding example is the
debate about population size in the New World a t the time of first encounters
between Europeans and Indians (Denevan, 1992a; Ubelaker, 1992a; and see below). The quality of census data from the period of initial contact is highly variable
and reflects each individual’s reputation for accurately reporting data, the person’s
knowledge of the population being described, and the political context of the observation (Ubelaker, 1992a). Knowledge of the historical context of population
estimates can provide important perspective. For example, in the American Southwest, upon visitation by Spaniards, Pueblos would apparently band together to
demonstrate tribal strength (Upham, 1992). Temporary population conflation during the Coronado’s visitations is a n obvious characteristic leading to inaccurate
depictions of population size and demographic change.
Diet composition, a critical component of human health and survival (see Buikstra and Mielke, 19851, has also been described for many native groups in historical narratives, but these accounts are often fraught with problems. For example,
a consensus developed that the Guale, one of the earliest groups to be contacted by
Europeans north of Mexico, based their subsistence regime on hunting, gathering,
fishing, and shifting cultivation of maize, which, however, was thought to play a
minor role in subsistence (Larson, 1980). Jones (1978) systematically reexamined
early documentary sources and has argued that they are distorted accounts of
missionaries who poorly understood Guale foodways. He argues that maize played
a central role in diets of Guale, a finding that is consistent with isotopic analysis
of human bone samples from Georgia and Florida (Larsen et al., 1992b; and see
Regional Studies).
Mission and municipal records
Within a short time following Columbus’s landfall, Roman Catholic missions
were established throughout vast regions of the New World coming under Spain’s
control. Records kept by priests at Catholic missions and by civil servants in other
settings are a n important resource that have facilitated the reconstruction of social
and demographic results of contact. Many of these records have survived and are
being analyzed by historians, anthropologists, and others for demographically relevant information, including births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials (e.g.,
Reff, 1991, 1992; Schuetz, 1980; Walker and Johnson, 1992, 1994). For some regions, these and other documents (e.g., diaries and letters) make i t possible to track
the spread of disease with some degree of accuracy (e.g., Johnson, 1993a, 1994;
Palkovich, 1994; Reff, 1992; Walker and Johnson, 1994).
The availability of church or municipal records is not restricted to New Spain.
For example, during the nineteenth century, the Alaska Russian Church kept
detailed population information on births, deaths, and related data for a number of
native groups coming under the control of Russia (Dumond, 1986). In the Nushagak region of southwestern Alaska, these records give details on population decline in relation to the effects of a variety of stressors, including increasing exposure to epidemic disease and its effects on fertility and mortality.
Archaeological data
Archaeological data, particularly a s they relate to population distribution, size,
and density, have become a n increasingly utilized source of information. Archaeological studies emphasize the importance of understanding the underlying dynamics of postcontact-era population change in response to a variety of circumstances, such as epidemic disease (e.g., Davis and Ward, 1991; Kowalewski and
Hatch, 1991; Milner et al., 1992; Perttula, 1991, 1992; Ramenofsky, 1987; Smith,
1987; Upham, 1992; Ward and Davis, 1991, 1993). Archaeological data are useful
for developing trends of population change in a diachronic perspective (see Ramenofsky, 1991). Unlike narrative accounts and other historical sources that pro-
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vide actual dates for specific events, archaeological data require accurate chronologies. In the absence of precise chronological frameworks, timing of population
change-such as decline-is difficult to document. Other limitations of archaeological data involve sampling biases-that is, the representativeness of a region or
area being analyzed-and site identification (see Ramenofsky, 1987; Smith, 1987).
Archaeological assessment of mortuary context can reveal the impact of epidemics and other factors affecting population size (Hutchinson, 1991; Milner, 1980;
Smith, 1987; Ward and Davis, 1991, 1993). For example, rapid loss of life might
result in burial of multiple individuals, such as that involving several or more
corpses (Milner, 1980; Smith, 1987; Wray et al., 1987; Blakely and DetweilerBlakely, 1989). In archaeological settings, if it can be ruled out that multipleindividual burials simply do not represent a culturally preferred mode of interment (e.g., Pfeiffer and Fairgrieve, 1994; Stephenson and Ferguson, 1963; Stewart,
1992; Ubelaker, 1974), then postepidemic burial might be a possible explanation.
In the eastern US., there is some evidence for postepidemic interment, but much
of these data are inconclusive (see Smith, 1987; Wray et al., 1987; Blakely and
Detweiler-Blakely, 1989). Thus, when a large, multiple-style ossuary containing
the skeletal remains of 59 individuals was encountered at the site of a seventeenthcentury Spanish mission on Amelia Island, Florida, initial interpretations suggested postepidemic burial (Simmons et al., 1989). However, analysis of ratios of
disarticulated to articulated articular joints indicated that the deaths were likely
accretional rather than catastrophic (cf. Ubelaker, 1974).
Several recently excavated archaeological mortuary sites have provided fairly
good evidence for very rapid, possibly postepidemic, mortality. The Tatham Mound
site in gulf-coast Florida includes early contact-period human remains dating from
the early to middle sixteenth century. A group of articulated skeletons located
within a single pit suggests a large number of contemporaneous deaths, possibly
from a n epidemic (Hutchinson, 1991). In piedmont North Carolina, Ward and
Davis (1991, 1993) archaeologically document a dramatic increase in burial density in relation to estimated population size. They surmise that the beginning of
intensive mortuary activity signals the introduction and rapid spread of European
diseases during the period of trade with British colonists after 1650.
Osteological human remains
A largely untapped source of information about effects of contact in native
groups are human skeletal remains. The human skeleton is a highly sensitive
indicator of past life experiences occurring during the years of growth and development and adulthood, offering information on dietary composition and nutritional adequacy, disease, lifestyle, behavior, and workload. Bioarchaeologists frequently deal with areas of concern that can provide insight into the history of the
human condition (Goodman, 1984b; Iecan and Kennedy, 1989; Larsen, 1987;
Saunders and Katzenberg, 1992).
In reviewing the vast body of data on contact-much of i t generated around the
time of and since the Columbian quincentenary-I am struck by the underrepresented nature of physical anthropology. This is especially surprising since the
study of human remains has contributed to a n understanding of other biocultural
aspects of human population history, such a s the transition from food collection to
food production (e.g., various authors in Cohen and Armelagos, 1984; and see
Cohen, 1989). While preparing a volume (Larsen, 1991) reprinting works on the
biological consequences of contact and demography for native populations in the
Spanish borderlands-a vast region covering northern Mesoamerica and what is
now the southern United States from the Pacific to Atlantic coasts-I was unable
to locate a single article, book chapter, or unpublished manuscript using human
remains a s a key source of information. The underrepresentation of skeletal studies in the body of literature dealing with the contact period is especially puzzling
as so much of the discussion revolves directly around disease and population collapse (see also Larsen and Milner, 1994).
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An examination of factors contributing to this shortfall, however, explains why
bioarchaeologists have not participated more fully in discussions about contact.
First, historically, skeletal studies have been dominated by particularistic approaches to population history and racial identification with very little concern for
life experience and issues of relevance to a broader audience of anthropologists
(Armelagos et al., 1980; Larsen, 1987; Larsen and Milner, 1994). Second, until the
last couple of decades or so, there were relatively few trained osteologists who were
able to address many of the problems discussed in this article. Third, aside from
issues about the history of skeletal studies, many of the best documented early
contact-period osteological collections were excavated only within the last decade
or so (e.g., various studies in Verano and Ubelaker, 1992; Larsen and Milner,
1994). Fourth, even in those settings where historic-era skeletal samples were
available for analysis, precontact-era remains might not be, thus limiting meaningful diachronic comparisons. Fifth, a number of technological and methodological advances that are currently being used to document health and lifeway
changes, such as dietary reconstruction via chemical analysis of human bone (e.g.,
Katzenberg, 1992; Sandford, 1993; Schwarcz and Schoeninger, 1991) and biomechanical analysis (Ruff, 19921, are quite recent.
I hasten to point out, however, that like any other data set involving archaeological settings, human remains are subject to a number of cultural and natural
processes that can produce spurious results. These processes require careful consideration prior to interpretation of skeletal data. For example, demographic interpretation based on age estimates from skeletal remains is hampered by various
cultural and other factors, such as differential treatment by social rank, age, or
gender, that potentially influence who is included in any single death assemblage.
Moreover, differential preservation of remains can bias population profiles; age
estimation from human remains is often inaccurate, especially in older adults;
mortality bias may be problematic for health assessment of juveniles; and recognition, quantification, and diagnosis of pathological lesions in relation to disease
experience frequently is problematic (Buikstra and Mielke, 1985; Gordon and
Buikstra, 1981; Jackes, 1992; Larsen, 1987; Larsen and Milner, 1994; Saunders
and Hoppa, 1993; Walker et al., 1988; Wood et al., 1992). Although important
advances have been made in paleopathology and disease diagnosis (see Ortner and
Putschar, 1985), the precise documentation and differentiation of acute versus
epidemic conditions remain elusive simply because death resulting from acute
disease usually occurs soon after a microbial attack, leaving little or no discernible
skeletal imprint. Thus, the epidemics so frequently documented in narrative accounts are almost never identifiable in skeletal series.
The potential limitations of osteological data should not be construed as outright
justification for not using human remains to address issues about the history of
contact between Europeans and Native Americans (contra Stannard, 1991). For
example, Cook (1981) and Borah (1991) give the incorrect impression that skeletal
studies are inadequate and provide little meaning in these discussions. For Mexico,
Borah (1991:18)remarked that “the entire adult population would have to train as
archaeologists for adequate exploration (of cemeteries) to be mounted.” This is a
naive understanding of human skeletal analysis.
In the last several years, a number of efforts have greatly increased our knowledge about the health and biology of contact-period Native Americans. A significant body of this work is presented in two volumes edited by physical anthropologists comparing precontact and postcontact skeletal series from various areas of
the New World (Larsen and Milner, 1994; Verano and Ubelaker, 1992). Case studies from specific regions of the New World will be reviewed later in this article (see
Regional Studies).
Despite the problems with the above data sources, the integration of these approaches has important potential for a number of topics that have emerged in
discussions about the biological effects of contact. In addition to change in health
status and population size, the topic of quality of life before Europeans arrived in
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[Vol. 37, 1994
the New World is being discussed. That is, what is known about Native American
health status before contact?
BEFORE CONQUEST: DISEASE, DYING, AND DEATH
Paradise lost?
The myth persists that before the arrival of Columbus prehistoric Native Americans led idyllic lives: they occupied a pristine landscape (see Denevan, 1992b;
Butzer, 1993; O’Hara et al., 1993)’ and they experienced little or no disease (e.g.,
Sale, 1990). Dobyns (1983:34), for example, indicates that “[blefore the invasion of
peoples of the New World by pathogens that evolved among inhabitants of the Old
World, Native Americans lived in a relatively disease-free environment. . . . Before
Europeans initiated the Columbian Exchange of germs and viruses, the peoples of
the Americas suffered no smallpox, no measles, no chickenpox, no influenza, no
typhus, no typhoid or parathyroid fever, no diphtheria, no cholera, no bubonic
plague, no scarlet fever, no whooping cough, and no malaria.” Certainly, none in
this cacophonous inventory of diseases was present in the New World prior to
contact (see Merbs, 1992). On the other hand, i t leaves the impression that native
populations experienced no disease. This point of view is echoed by Thornton in his
statement that “[tlhere are overwhelming indications that the peoples of North
America and the entire Western Hemisphere were remarkably free of serious
diseases before the Europeans and Africans arrived” (1987:39; see also Cook and
Lovell, 1991a).
The perception of a disease-free New World is reinforced by early narratives
recounting a n apparent absence of disease before the arrival of Europeans. For
example, one Maya native recalled that “[tlhere was then no sickness. The foreigners made i t otherwise when they arrived here. They brought shameful things
when they came” (quoted in Cook and Lovell, 1991b:242). In New England, colonist
William Wood remarked that native peoples were “of lusty and healthful bodies,
not experimentally knowing the catalogue of those health-wasting diseases which
are incident to other countries” (cited in Cronon, 1983:85). Moreover, Europeans
living in the New World seemed to be enjoying better health than their contemporaries living back home in Europe (Cronon, 1983).
Skeletal evidence of infectious disease
Studies of numerous archaeological human skeletal series have shown that the
“disease-free’’ perception is completely unfounded. Moreover, the social and populational changes that predate the arrival of Europeans may have already contributed to the presence of acute crowd infections, at least in some regions where
native populations were living in densely settled circumstances (see Saunders et
al., 1992).
At the center of this discussion has been the consideration of the presence of two
chronic infectious diseases, treponematosis and tuberculosis. Treponematosis comprises a group of bacterial spirochete (genus Treponerna) infections, the skeletal
manifestations of which are present in venereal syphilis, endemic (nonvenereal)
syphilis, and yaws (Ortner and Putschar, 1985; Ortner et al., 1992). Tuberculosis
is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis or closely related species (Thijn and
Steensma, 1990). Both diseases leave characteristic skeletal modifications that are
distinctive from each other. Treponematosis involves pathological proliferation
and enlargement of bone tissue, mostly skeletal elements with little overlying soft
tissue such as the tibia diaphysis and calvarium (Hackett, 1976; Hudson, 1958;
Jaffe, 1972; Ortner and Putschar, 1985; Ortner et al., 1992; Steinbock, 1976),
whereas tuberculosis causes a loss of bone mass, especially affecting lower thoracic
and lumbar vertebral bodies (Ortner and Putschar, 1985; Thijn and Steensma,
1990).
Analysis of human skeletal series in the 1970s and 1980s as well as ongoing
research by various workers in the present decade have provided abundant data
indicating the presence of both diseases in the New World before contact (contra
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POSTCONTACT NATIVE AMERICAN BIOLOGY
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Stannard, 1991; see comprehensive review by Merbs, 1992). The identification of
M . tuberculosis DNA in mummified lung tissue from Peru provides complementary
evidence for the presence of tuberculosis well before European contact (Salo et al.,
1994). Similarly, Rogan and Lentz (1994) have tentatively identified Treponema
DNA in prehistoric Chilean mummies.
Although skeletal remains from a number of regions have now been examined
showing the existence of isolated and multiple cases of tuberculosis and treponematosis in specific settings (see Buikstra and Williams, 1991; Merbs, 19921, three
regions of North America have received the most attention-the American Midwest (e.g., Buikstra, 1981; Cook, 1976; Milner and Smith, 1990; Milner, 1992;
Morse, 1967; Sullivan, 1985; West, 19931, Southeast (e.g., Bogdan and Weaver,
1992; Bullen, 1972; Dailey and Morse, 1984; Eisenberg, 1986; Hutchinson,
1993a,b; Lewis, 1994; Murray, 1989; Ortner et al., 1992; Powell, 1989,1990,1991,
1992), and, to a lesser extent, Southwest (e.g., Coyne, 1981; Fink, 1985; Merbs,
1989a, 1992; Stodder, 1994; Stodder and Martin, 1992; Sumner, 1985). Examples of
treponematosis and tuberculosis have been documented in diverse circumstances
over thousands of years prior to contact (e.g., Bullen, 1972; and discussion by
Hutchinson, 1993a).
Osteological cases of treponematosis and tuberculosis identified by physical anthropologists are typically from prehistoric settings predating Columbus’s landfall
by only a few centuries. Moreover, they tend to be associated with native societies
living in settled and crowded communities whose diets focus in varying degrees on
agriculture. These general characteristics support the contention that the diseases
are essentially density-dependent (e.g., see discussion of mycobacterial infections
by Merbs, 1992).
With regard to the endemic (nonvenereal) form of treponematosis, Merbs indicated that “its present distribution, limited almost entirely to the Old World,
argues against any precontact presence in the Americas” (1992:21). However, close
examination of the skeletal pattern of lesions as well as its widespread distribution
prior to contact argues that the disease was endemic in the Americas before contact
(e.g., Bogdan and Weaver, 1992; Bullen, 1972; Elting and Starna, 1984; Hutchinson, 1993a,b; Powell, 1990, 1992; Reichs, 1989; Ross-Stallings, 1989; Snow, 1962).
Cranial lesions such as caries sicca and areas of gummatous remodeling-classic
indicators of venereal syphilis-are usually not present in precontact skeletal
series. Moreover, precontact skeletons typically lack congenital and neonatal skeletal and dental modifications associated with venereal syphilis (e.g., Bogdan and
Weaver, 1992; Hutchinson, 1993a,b).
The detailed study of treponematosis and tuberculosis in archaeological human
remains serves to remind us that, like all human populations, native New World
groups lived in circumstances involving infectious disease as a potential selective
force (Armelagos et al., 1978). J u s t how life-threatening or debilitating these diseases were in the prehistoric past is unknown. However, because treponematosis in
particular was endemic, it was likely not a primary cause of mortality (see also
Bogdan and Weaver, 1992; Powell, 1992). Historical narratives indicate, however,
that it resulted in great discomfort. In his description of native populations in
North Carolina in the early eighteenth century, John Lawson noted that the Santee “. . . have a sort of Rheumatism or Burning of the Limbs, which tortures them
grievously, at which times their Legs are so hot, that they employ the young People
continually to pour water down them. . . . This not seldom bereaves them of their
Nose. I have seen three or four of them render’d most miserable Spectacles by this
Distemper . . .” (Lawson, 1967:231).
Other factors contributing to reduced quality of life prior to contact have also
been examined. This is especially apparent in a number of bioarchaeological studies t h a t have examined the prevalence of nonspecific infectious skeletal lesions.
Although the etiological underpinnings are only poorly understood, the study of
these pathological conditions lends important insights into the general characteristics of human health prior to European contact. Variously called periosteal re-
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[Val. 37, 1994
Fig. 1. Adult tibia showing periosteal reaction on mid-diaphysis (Amelia Island, Florida, mission ossuary, no. 40; photograph by Mark C . Griffin).
actions or periostitis, these lesions are restricted to the outer bone surface and
develop a s a response to skin infection, systemic bacterial infection, other soft
tissue infections, or trauma, such as a blow to the leg (Ortner and Putschar, 1985).
Periosteal reactions usually involve proliferation of bone tissue forming on the
external cortical bone surface, often resulting in a n irregular expansion of the
periosteum (Fig. 1). In the healed form, the periosteum has a smooth, undulating
appearance that is frequently accompanied by a localized swelling, usually on long
bone diaphyses (especially the tibia). Osteomyelitis, a more extensive form of infection affecting the bone cortex and medullary cavity, involves the introduction
of pyogenic (pus-producing) bacteria (e.g., Staphylococcus, Streptococcus). Osteological samples typically show a much lower frequency of osteomyelitis than periosteal reactions.
A large number of studies have reported on the prevalence of periosteal reactions
in archaeological skeletal samples, mostly from North America (but see Ubelaker,
1984, 1994). Like the aforementioned specific infectious diseases, most of the systematically collected data are from the American Midwest (e.g., Cook, 1984; Lallo
et al., 1978; Lallo and Rose, 1979; Milner, 1991; Milner and Smith, 1990; Perzigian
et al., 1984) and Southeast (e.g., Boyd, 1986; Eisenberg, 1986; Hutchinson, 1991;
Larsen, 1982,1984; Larsen and Harn, 1994; Powell, 1988, 1991; Rose et al., 1984).
In these regions, researchers have reported a considerable range in frequency of
periosteal reactions. For example, in skeletal remains analyzed by Milner (1991)
from the American Bottom of the Mississippi River valley, nearly 30% of tibiae
observed from late prehistoric sites displayed lesions. In the late prehistoric intensive maize agriculturalists from the Dickson Mounds series, 67% of tibiae were
affected (Goodman et al., 1984a). In the Averbuch series-also late prehistoricthe prevalence is approximately 80% in adult males and 70% in adult females for
all tibia1 lesions (periosteal reactions and osteomyelitis combined; Eisenberg,
1986). These figures are well above those reported from the Georgia coast by
Larsen (1982))where only about 15% of tibiae show evidence of periosteal reactions
in late prehistory.
Some of this variability might point to different means of identifying and recording skeletal pathology by various researchers. Nevertheless, it clearly indicates the presence of infectious pathology prior to contact. Like the specific diseases discussed above, the highest frequencies tend to be associated with large, late
prehistoric, sedentary populations.
Finally, studies of late prehistoric populations show that before contact numer-
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POSTCONTACT NATIVE AMERICAN BIOLOGY
117
ous groups had experienced a decline in health status that may be related to
nutritional insufficiencies associated with maize consumption. For example, in
some regions of North America (but not all), a number of researchers have documented increase in iron deficiency anemia (e.g., Cook, 1984; El-Najjar et al., 1975).
Other factors contributing to anemia, such as parasitism and other infectious
states, may be involved (see Stuart-Macadam and Kent, 1992). Moreover, the
increasing prevalence of dental defects (e.g., hypoplasias) and other nonspecific
indicators of health status tied to nutritional deprivation or infectious disease or
both are also well documented in many settings (e.g., various studies in Cohen and
Armelagos, 1984). Because of the synergistic interaction between malnutrition
and infectious disease, it is usually not possible to tease apart the role of both in the
etiology of nonspecific indicators of health in skeletal series (see Larsen, 1987;
Saunders and Hoppa, 1993). Nevertheless, the presence of hard tissue evidence-in
high frequencies in some settings in the New World-attests to the poor health in
some populations well before European contact (also see various authors in Larsen
and Milner, 1994; Verano and Ubelaker, 1992).
Social conflict and violence
That precontact populations did not live in a bucolic setting with little or no
conflict is well illustrated by evidence of violent encounters observed in human
remains. In the central Illinois River valley, for example, Milner and coworkers
(Milner, 1992; Milner and Smith, 1990; Milner et al., 1991) have analyzed human
remains from the Norris Farms #36 site, representative of the late prehistoric (ca.
A.D. 1300) Oneota cultural tradition. The Oneota were a population influx into a
region already occupied by a Mississippian culture. Some 16%(43/264)of skeletons
show damage-trauma, mutilation, and cranial damage-indicative of violent
death (Fig. 2). Five wounded victims, all adult women, appear to have survived
because they show extensive posttraumatic bone remodeling. However, most injuries were lethal. Three of these individuals had been scalped. In total, some
one-third of the adults died from violent means.
In the late prehistoric Koger’s Island site in the middle Tennessee River valley
in northwestern Alabama, Bridges (1993) has analyzed human remains from several mass burials, each containing a minimum of five individuals, mostly adult
males. Some individuals-all males-have scalping marks on the cranial vaults.
About 20% (22/107) of the skeletons from the site are from multiple-individual
graves.
Comparison of adult male and female mortality profiles from Koger’s Island
reveals clear sex differences. In females, there is a peak age-at-death in the late
teens and twenties, and in males, the peak occurs in the thirties. Comparison of the
multiple burials (25 skeletons) with smaller burials (<5 individuals) shows that
the latter have mortality profiles commonly observed in archaeological skeletal
series-namely, there is a relatively high peak age-at-death affecting young juveniles. In contrast, the peak mortality in the multiple burials occurs during the
fourth decade. In addition, the multiple burials are overwhelmingly male. Based
on these observations-presence of traumatic injury, differing mortality profile
patterns, and adult sex composition-Bridges (1993) argues that the multipleburial deaths were due to violence. Moreover, these violent deaths contributed to
alteration in demographic patterns of death, accounting for a higher proportion of
deaths (20%)than exhibited in the Norris Farms series. The mortality data based
on observations of human remains greatly underestimates the total loss of life from
violence, because many deaths did not involve skeletal trauma.
High frequency of violent deaths in these prehistoric small-scale societies would
likely have had important consequences for the maintenance of social cohesion. On
the one hand, the deaths at both Norris Farms and Koger’s Island sites appear to
have occurred over a period of time, suggesting that these groups were able to
sustain themselves over a span of time, thus allowing for the growth of the cemetery (see also Milner et al., 1991). Nevertheless, these findings also point to high
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Fig. 2. Scalping cut marks on frontal bone (Norris Farms #36, Illinois, individual 72; from GR Milner
and VG Smith, Oneota human skeletal remains. In SK Santure, AD Harn, and D Esarey (eds.): Archaeological Investigations at the Morton Village and Norris Farms 36 Cemetary, Ill. State Mus. Rep. Invest.
No. 45, 1990; photograph by George R. Milner; reproduced with permission of authors and the Illinois
State Museum).
levels of social conflict whereby a smaller-scale society suffered population loss
from malevolent encounters, presumably while subdominant and dominant groups
were competing for the same or highly overlapping resources.
The presence of social conflict leading to violent death has been documented in
a number of other regions. In the Missouri River valley of the northern Great
Plains, human remains from the proto-Arikara Crow Creek site (ca. A.D. 1325)
show a suite of traumatic lesions similar to those observed in the Norris Farms and
Koger’s Island samples. These lesions denote evidence of traumatic injury, including fractures, tooth evulsions, cranial depression fractures, scalping, and decapitation (Willey, 1990; Willey and Emerson, 1993). In addition, several Crow Creek
skeletons possess cut marks on nasal bones and mandibular rami indicating nose
and tongue removal, respectively. In contrast to the Koger’s Island and Norris
Farms series, however, the extraordinarily high frequency of scalping marksnearly 90% of the Crow Creek crania display cut marks-indicates that all deaths
occurred during a single raid or massacre.
In the American Southwest, a number of late prehistoric human skeletal assemblages have cut marks, breakage, and other modifications suggesting that deceased individuals were processed for food (e.g., Fagan, 1994; Turner, 1983, 1993;
Turner et al., 1993; White, 1992). Violence such as that associated with warfare
may have caused the deaths of individuals in these samples. However, most of the
skeletal elements are highly fragmentary, thus preventing identification of mutilation and wounding patterns that could have caused death (Turner, 1993). For
example, none of the skeletal remains examined by White (e.g., Mancos Canyon)
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had imbedded stone projectile points indicating violent death. Alternatively, starvation during periods of drought and poor resource availability may have been a n
incentive for cannibalism. Unfortunately, evidence of starvation is difficult, if not
impossible, to identify in human skeletal remains. Therefore, the reasons for cannibalism in this region are unknown. Whatever the cause, however, cannibalism
may have been a contributing factor to precontact mortality in the American
Southwest: as many as 40 skeletal assemblages exhibit processing characteristics
consistent with anthropophagous behavior (Turner, 1993).
It is likely that interpersonal violence in prehistoric societies was intended to
have a lethal outcome (e.g., Jurmain, 1991; Milner e t al., 1991; Powell and Rogers,
1980; Turner et al., 1993; various chapters in Owsley and Jantz, 1994). Apparently, however, not all violent interactions were meant to result in the death. In
the Santa Barbara Channel Island area, Walker (1989) has documented the high
prevalence (19.3%) of well-healed cranial depression fractures (Fig. 3). The presence of bone remodeling in all but one cranium indicates that the trauma was
rarely lethal. Like the Crow Creek sample from South Dakota, cranial injuries
were commonplace. However, the virtual lack of healing in the Crow Creek victims
indicates that homicide was the intent. The underlying circumstances for violence
in both societies, however, may have been similar. In this regard, the majority of
victims in the Channel Islands group are late prehistoric, a time when population
was at its highest numbers and density. In circumscribed land masses like islands,
i t would have been difficult to avoid conflict by population movement (Walker,
1989). The problem may have been worsened by the reduction in important marine
and terrestrial resources brought about by a general warming trend during later
prehistory. The reduction in food availability would likely have resulted in a n
increase in competition and, hence, violent behavior (Lambert, 1994; Walker,
1989).
Most of the documented cases of interpersonal violence in skeletal series are
males (e.g., Walker, 1989; Turner et al., 19931, which reflects the central role of
men in the violent resolution of conflicts. However, study of crania from the
Riviere aux Vase site dating from the late prehistoric period (ca. A.D. 1000-1300)
in Michigan indicates a much higher frequency of cranial trauma in adult females
(N = 16) than adult males (N = 4)(Wilkinson and Van Wagenen, 1993). Of the
individuals with cranial trauma, most males are relatively old (>50 years) and
most females are young (21-25 years). This sex and age pattern of violent behavior
suggests that young women were preferentially selected victims of attack. The lack
of indicators of trauma resulting from warfare (e.g., projectile wounds, scalping;
Milner et al., 1991) suggests that violence may have been associated with either
capture of reproductive-age women from another group or these women were victims of spouse abuse within the natal group (Wilkinson and Van Wagenen, 1993).
The variability in the pattern and probable social context for violence in prehistoric societies is similar to what has been observed in some living small-scale
societies (Chagnon, 1983). Regardless of cause, however, skeletal series from diverse settings reflect evidence of chronic intergroup (and perhaps intragroup) conflict occurring well before European contact. Traumatic injury sometimes resulting in death was not unusual before contact, especially during later prehistory
in eastern North America (see Milner et al., 1991). If the ethnographic and ethnohistorical literature can be taken as a n accurate representation of conflict
and warfare in small-scale groups, mortality and morbidity resulting from interpersonal violence likely varied in space and time and should not be construed
as commonplace behavior (Milner et al., 1991). For example, trauma in many
series is predominantly accidental in origin (e.g., Lovejoy and Heiple, 1981; Smith,
1990). Whatever its cause, violence was a n aspect of the precontact social landscape that indicates a picture of human interaction that at times was decidedly
nonidyllic before the arrival of Europeans (see also discussions by Smith, 1994;
White, 1992).
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Fig. 3. Depression fractures in adult crania from Santa Barbara Channel area, California. A: Ellipsoidal parietal injury, BMNH SK10068, Santa Cruz Island. B: Deep circular injury, BMNH SK10047, Santa
Cruz Island. C: Multiple circular injuries, SBa-60, mainland coast. D: Ellipsoidal occipital injury, BMNH
SK10012, Santa Cruz Island. E: Circular parietal injury, SBa-60, mainland coast; arrow points to residual fracture line (from PL Walker, Cranial injuries as evidence of violence in prehistoric southern
California, Am. J . Phys. Anthropol. 80:313-323. Copyright 0 1989 Wiley-Liss, lnc.; reproduced with
permission of author and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).
DURING CONQUEST: DISEASE, DYING, AND DEATH
Population size
One of the most discussed issues about the post-Columbian period is the estimation of the total size of the native population a t the time of or shortly before initial
contact. At times, the debates surrounding these discussions have appeared to
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emphasize numbers without broader context for their meaning. Or, as noted by
Johansson (1982:137),discussions “over the size of the population at contact have
the appearance of a game in which numbers rather than balls are batted about.”
However, estimation of population size at contact is not a trivial issue. Rather,
knowledge of the size of native population at the time of contact engenders a better
understanding of the magnitude and variability of population decline throughout
the Americas after 1492; it allows us to examine adaptations and history of native
groups that inhabited the New World a t the time of contact (see Ubelaker, 1992a);
it sheds light on the rate and timing of the spread of Old World pathogens; and
overall, population size changes provide a rough measure of health status alterations.
Controversies over aboriginal population size have continued unabated since the
first estimates were made (see reviews in Daniels, 1992; Denevan, 1992a; Johannson, 1982; Thornton, 1987; Ubelaker, 1988,1992a). The sixteenth-century Spanish
historian Bartolome de Las Casas estimated the native population size on the
Caribbean island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) in 1492 at approximately three million (see Borah, 1992; Rosenblat, 1992). During the first several
decades of the sixteenth century, he argued that some 15 million natives died in
the West Indies. This is the estimate projected by Steward (1949) for the entire
western hemisphere!
The most careful work on population estimates has been done for North America, the continent for which there are the most accurate data. Ubelaker (1988,
1992a,b) has reviewed the history of estimating population size in North America
north of Mexico since Mooney (1928) completed his pioneering study nearly a
century ago (see also Daniels, 1992:Table 11). There is a considerable degree of
variability in the estimates cited in these studies, ranging from under one million
(e.g., Kroeber, 1939) to 18 million (Dobyns, 1983). Especially controversial are
Dobyns’s estimates extrapolated from the northern Florida Timucua (see, for example, critique by Henige, 1986a,b, 1990). Based on the resource potential of
various natural habitats, Dobyns (1983) estimates that the Timucua numbered
722,000 in 1517. Extrapolating from this tribe, he argues that there were about 18
million “living north of civilized Mesoamerica” immediately prior to European
contact.
Ubelaker (1988, 1992a) has analyzed individual tribal estimates presented by
specialists contributing to the Handbook of North American Indians (Sturtevant,
1978). His estimates reflect a range of carefully considered archaeological
and ethnohistorical data, the impacts of early epidemics, and ecology (see also
Daniels, 1992, for a detailed review of the methodological approaches of this and
other estimate studies). From these data, an estimate of 1,894,350 is derived for
native population size of North America at the time of contact. Considerably less
than Dobyns’s estimates, Ubelaker’s more conservative numbers may be closer to
reality, although the variability in quality of data and different methodologies
employed by the myriad of contributors to the Handbook suggests that this figure
is imprecise (see Ubelaker, 1988).
Ubelaker (1992a) has also examined population size of ten major regions at
different time intervals beginning with A.D. 1500 and concluding with 1985, drawing several important conclusions. First, there is a remarkable range of variability
in the magnitude of native population size reduction in North America after A.D.
1500: the decline in population appears to have been greatest in California (95%),
whereas arctic and subarctic populations experienced the least amount of decrease
(53%and 56%,respectively). These findings suggest that population reduction was
not uniform across the Americas, but rather was likely dependent on local circumstances, such as those related to the size and distribution of different aboriginal
societies as well as other predisposing circumstances that might have led to relatively more (or less) population loss. Second, the nadir size of North American
native populations for all areas combined was about 530,000 (72% reduction) in
1900. Finally, although native groups experienced astonishing reductions, both
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regionally and overall, the recovery in the present century indicates a remarkable
resiliency. Ubelaker (1988) estimates that population size in 1985 was about 2.5
million, a figure suggesting that population has actually increased in relation to
that present when Europeans first made landfall in the New World. By all accounts, this demographic resurgence will continue for the foreseeable future (see
Johannson, 1982; Ubelaker, 1992a).
How population size in the New World may have responded to disease and other
stressors has recently been investigated via computer simulation models. For example, in colonial Mexico, Whitmore (1992) has simulated mortality, fertility, and
migration figures for the Basin of Mexico using documentary information on disease epidemics and other stressors (e.g., forced relocation, violent death). Matching
his simulation with several alternative historical reconstructions demonstrates a
close fit with previous reconstructions showing “moderate” collapse in population
size in the region (from 1,304,390 to 343,018 in 1569). The importance of this
simulation is that it provides a n independent test of different reconstructions of
population size using historical sources.
Disease spread
An assumption that native population distribution was uniform underlies most
discussions about population size in the New World, either with regard to specific
regions or with regard to major land masses. Based on a high degree of saturation
of the many landscapes making up the Americas, Dobyns (1983:324) argues that
there were a series of frequent and uniform pandemics that spread rapidly
throughout a single, vast “epidemic region.” A “widespread biological invasion”
(smallpox) in the years 1520-1524 is believed to have resulted in massive depopulation, especially in regions of the Americas that were most densely populated “at
least from Chile across (the) present United States” (Dobyns, 1983:15).
In order to clarify the postcontact transformations in population size and distribution in the Americas, Milner and coworkers (1992) have focussed on archaeological evidence of population size and distribution in the Eastern Woodlands
region of North America-the area east of the Mississippi River-extending from
the southern tip of Florida to southern Canada. This area is appropriate for this
kind of study owing to the availability of a tremendous archaeological data base
from which population size and distribution may be assessed, in contrast to most
other areas of the Americas where data are much less complete. Based on a n
extensive archaeological literature and unpublished data, they have developed a
series of maps showing population concentrations and phase boundaries for specific
time intervals, including late precontact (A.D. 1400-1450), initial contact (15001550), and full-scale, sustained contact (1600-1650) periods. Although spotty in
many areas, these data provide a new avenue for investigating the distribution of
native population size during late prehistory and the initial period of contact and
after. Their findings show that Native Americans were, of course, living in many
areas of eastern North America, but large regions were either unoccupied or
sparsely occupied in the period immediately preceding and during initial contact
by Europeans. All environments that were economically productive (e.g., river
valleys) were not uniformly settled, and only a fraction of potentially habitable
areas were actually populated.
The upper Oconee watershed of Georgia is one of the best archaeologically documented regions in the Eastern Woodlands. Kowalewski and Hatch (1991) report
that the valleys and nearby uplands in the region were occupied by populations
living in small communities and farmsteads throughout the late prehistoric period.
These populations appear to have increased in size during the early contact period
(through the sixteenth century), well after the first Spanish explorations (e.g., the
de Soto entrada). Population decline does not occur until the early seventeenth
century, Similar patterns of continuous occupation are reported in other areas. For
example, piedmont North Carolina is characterized by population stability prior to
European contact, and there is no evidence of decline until intensive trade begins
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with British colonists in the mid-seventeenth century (Davis and Ward, 1991;
Ward and Davis, 1991, 1993).
On the other hand, some regions in the Eastern Woodlands show complete or
near complete depopulation, well before European contact. In the Savannah River
basin of Georgia and South Carolina from ca. A.D. 1000 to 1450, local chiefdoms
appeared, flourished, and declined in a relatively uniform fashion prior to European contact (Anderson, 1994). Archaeological evidence indicates that most of the
lower and central area of the Savannah basin was completely abandoned after A.D.
1450 (Anderson, 1994). The period of abandonment lasted for a t least a century a s
evidence by eyewitness accounts from the 1540 de Soto exploration of the region
indicates that the area was completely devoid of humans (see Anderson, 1994;
Hudson e t al., 1984).
In summary, the Eastern Woodlands region was a populous landscape but by no
means uniformly occupied either spatially or temporally by native groups. The
apparent gaps in population distribution-a consequence of both physical and social barriers-argue that many prime resource zones did not support human
groups to the same extent. Indeed, a number of these zones were unoccupied for
various regions (see Anderson, 1994). Based on this new information, Milner and
coworkers (1992) make two key observations that contradict some of Dobyns’s
(1983) assumptions. First, the archaeological record gives compelling evidence for
population size well below the level projected by Dobyns. Second, the unoccupied
regions separating different aboriginal groups represented buffer zones separating
hostile polities. These buffers, some of which were likely quite large, would have
impeded to varying degrees the spread of European-introduced infectious diseases.
Thus, some populations would have been affected by the introduction of new diseases, but others would have been left untouched at various times. This factor,
along with evidence for populous landscapes well after the initial European explorations (e.g., Kowalewski and Hatch, 1991; Ward and Davis, 1991, 1993), argues
against pandemic models of rapid and uniform disease spread. Although Cook and
Love11 (1991b:240) argue “[tlhat the first diseases introduced from the Old World
to the New World found ideal conditions for the rapid transmission of sickness
across vast distances,” the conditions for rapid disease spread were not “ideal,” nor
were the “conditions” for transmission of disease “indisputable.”
On the other hand, some New World societies maintained strong social ties that
involved large areas. With regard to the Coosa paramount chiefdom, for example,
Milner and coworkers (1992) remark that these ties would have facilitated the
spread of disease across sparsely occupied regions. Moreover, the very dense population concentrations in the lower and middle Mississippi River valleys might
well have facilitated rapid disease transfer in those areas (see also Ramenofsky,
1987). Therefore, more complex societies characterized by strong social ties across
different communities may have been relatively more susceptible to disease spread
than smaller and more geographically isolated societies where contacts were less
frequent.
REGIONAL STUDIES
The motives of different European nations involved in the exploration and conquest of the Americas were quite varied. In northeastern North America, early
European-especially British and French-contacts with native groups tended to
be entrepreneurial-oriented trade exchanges involving minimal government control (Earle, 1992; Fitzhugh, 1985). On the other hand, in the vast territories of New
Spain-encompassing southern North America, Central America, and most of
South America-contacts between Europeans and natives were closely monitored
by the Spanish Crown and the Roman Catholic Church. Both the government and
religious institutions exerted a strong influence over native groups in the form of
population resettlement in villages, towns, and missions. Resettlement policies
followed by Imperial Spain in the Americas promoted effective civil administration, facilitated religious conversion to Christianity, and created more readily
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accessible labor pools (see Jones, 1978; Lovell, 1988; Weber, 1992). Therefore, the
nature of contact between Native Americans and Europeans varied greatly. Archaeologically, these differences are manifested in a variety of ways. For example,
in eastern North America, native populations living in areas not dominated by
Spain continued to follow traditional forms of settlement pattern, house structure,
and other native patterns of behavior. Moreover, mortuary behavior and disposal
of the dead, a n important indicator of belief systems, remained essentially unchanged, albeit with some modification reflecting European-Native American interaction (e.g., Axtell, 1981; Baker, 1994; Brain, 1988; Gibson, 1980; Greenman,
1951; Hedman, 1993; Morrell, 1965; Simmons, 1970; Smith, 1987; Turnbaugh,
1993; Ward and Davis, 1993; Waselkov et al., 1990; Wray et al., 1987). In contrast,
native patterns of behavior in New Spain were dramatically altered, especially
with regard to mortuary activity and use of Christian-style interment (e.g.,
Larsen, 1993). It seems possible, then, that greater social and cultural involvement
by some European powers may also have resulted in relatively greater biological
disruption in native societies.
Variability in the biological response to contact with Europeans should also be
influenced by preexisting characteristics of individual native groups. Habitats
occupied, population size and distribution, social complexity, dietary composition,
and many other parameters show a tremendous range of variation in the New
World. Even within relatively limited areas where populations share strong cultural identities, there is a high degree of variability in foods consumed and habitats exploited. For example, Pendergast (1991) has observed marked differences
between lowland Maya communities of Lamanai and Tipu, located within two
hundred kilometers of each other. In sum, these differences remind us that the
period of conquest and resulting biological changes should not be viewed as a
uniform process with necessarily predictable outcomes, but rather as a patchwork
of varying responses that were dependent both on the nature of European exploitative strategies and the specific native groups participating in a wide range of
contact interactions.
In the following discussion, six regional studies involving the analysis of human
remains and other relevant data by physical anthropologists are presented. These
studies are a representative sample of a growing number of investigations (see
Larsen, 1990; Larsen and Milner, 1994; Verano and Ubelaker, 1992) that use
human remains a s a data source in assessing the biological impact of European
contact on native societies. Given the long and extensive tradition of bioarchaeological research by physical anthropologists in the United States and Canada, the
regional investigations discussed here are biased toward North America. Nevertheless, they serve to show variability in native response to conquest as well as
some important similarities and differences between regions.
European expansion was of course not limited to the Americas. Although the
focus of this article is on biological change and adaptation in the Americas, I have
chosen to discuss a parallel comparison of precontact and contact skeletons from
Hawai'i in order to underscore the global nature of biological alterations for previously isolated populations.
La Florida Guale
Within a century following the founding and naming of La Florida by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1513, a n extensive network of Christian missions
had been established in what is now coastal Georgia and northern Florida
(McEwan, 1993; Thomas, 1987). Within a relatively short amount of time after the
initial founding of these outposts, native belief systems throughout much of the
region were greatly altered, especially with regard to treatment and disposition of
the deceased (Larsen, 1993). Study of mortuary patterns in contact-era sites shows
that with very few exceptions natives were buried in Christian-style postures in
close approximation to churches, thus reflecting the successes of a t least this
aspect of the efforts by priests to Christianize natives.
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Beginning in the 1930s, archaeologists and physical anthropologists have been
involved in the excavation and study of mortuary localities throughout Spanish
Florida, particularly in those tribal regions where Spain achieved its greatest
success in implementing these new belief systems, namely among the Guale,
Timucua, and Apalachee (Hann, 1990). Because these groups were some of the
earliest to be contacted north of Mexico, the study of hundreds of skeletons from a
dozen or so mission sites offers an opportunity to understand the biological underpinnings of sustained, long-term contact with Europeans, including responses to
European-introduced and already existing diseases, dietary change, malnutrition,
and increased labor demands (Larsen, 1993).
Narrative and other historical documents indicate that like most other areas of
the New World, population losses from epidemic disease were a t times horrific.
Moreover, this region sustained some of the earliest and most severe losses (see
Wood, 1989). In 1659, for example, the governor of La Florida remarked that some
10,000 natives had succumbed to a recent outbreak of measles (Hann, 1988). The
decreased number of villages during the seventeenth century attests to the dramatic shrinkage of population (see Jones, 1978).
Analysis of human remains by Larsen and coworkers from prehistoric (pre-A.D.
1450) and mission-period (A.D. 1566-1702) sites in coastal Georgia and Florida,
the region occupied by the Guale, has focused on two broad areas of inquiry regarding biocultural stress and adaptation in contact-era natives: 1)assessment of
quality of life and 2) characterization of physical behavior and activity patterns.
The first area deals primarily with the negative impact of missionization, including decline in nutritional quality, reduction in resource diversity, population nucleation resulting from the Spanish practice of reduccidn (concentration of native
population within limited areas), and infectious diseases. The second area presents
details about increasing work loads resulting from Spanish labor practices and the
effects of sedentism on mobility patterns.
Analysis of stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen from bone collagen indicates a concurrent increase in reliance on maize and a decrease in emphasis on
marine foods (e.g., fish and shellfish) in mission-era natives in comparison with
prehistoric groups (Larsen et al., 1992b; Schoeninger et al., 1990). Moreover, an
increase in prevalence of dental caries, an indicator of carbohydrate consumption
(maize has a high sucrose component) in late mission-era populations especially
provides additional evidence for an increased reliance on maize (Larsen et al.,
1991). Analysis of microwear patterns on molars suggests an increase in consumption of soft foods (e.g., maize prepared into mushes; Teaford, 1991; Fig. 4).These
findings are generally consistent with the archaeological record of food remains
recovered in the region, especially in regard t o increase in reliance on maize and
decrease in use of marine foods during the mission period (Dukes, 1993; Reitz,
1990; Ruhl, 1993). European-introduced domesticated animals (especially pigs and
chickens) are present in these contexts, but they appear to be of very minor dietary
importance (Reitz, 1990; Reitz and Duncan, n.d.).
Analysis of enamel defects known as hypoplasias provides additional insight
into physiological stress (Hutchinson and Larsen, 1988,1990; Larsen and Hutchinson, 1992; Simpson et al., 1990; Fig. 5). Study of prehistoric and mission dentitions
indicates that these defects tend to be relatively narrower in the precontact natives
than in the contact-era natives, suggesting a generally shorter stress duration or
lesser severity or both prior to contact. These observations are consistent with
ethnohistoric records describing an increase in infectious disease, starvation, and
warfare in the contact period (see Jones, 1978). Hypoplasias are nonspecific indicators of stress; therefore it is not possible to identify the particular stressors
responsible for the insult resulting in an enamel deficiency. Interestingly, the
enamel hypoplasias are generally narrower in nonmission natives than in mission
natives during the contact period, thus highlighting the ill effects of mission life
(e.g., declining nutrition, crowded living conditions; see Hutchinson and Larsen,
1988; Larsen and Hutchinson, 1992).
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Fig. 4. Scanning electron micrographs of molar occlusal surfaces ( x 500). Top: Deep pits and wide
grooves (precontact Georgia: Marys Mound, individual 2). Bottom: Slight pits and narrow grooves
(contact Florida: Santa Catalina de Guale de Santa Maria, individual 36B) (from MF Teaford, Dental
microwear: What can it tell us about diet and dental functions? In MA Kelley and CS Larsen (eds.):
Advances in Dental Anthropology. Copyright 0 1991 Wiley-Liss, Inc.; reproduced with permission of
author and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).
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Fig. 5. Juvenile anterior dentition showing hypoplasias on central maxillary incisors (anatomical specimen; photograph by Barry Stark).
The concentration of Native Americans around missions undoubtedly promoted
the spread of infectious disease due to reduced sanitary conditions and closer proximity of individuals. Investigation of periosteal reactions shows a striking increase
in frequency in contact-period natives (Larsen and Harn, 1994). In adult males, the
prevalence rises from 15.8% before contact to 52.2% in mission natives; in adult
females the change in prevalence is lower but still significant, from 16.0% to
27.7%. The increase is high in comparison with other documented temporal
changes in eastern North America (cf. Goodman et al., 1984a; Milner, 1991), and
may be interpreted as reflecting the deplorable living conditions often associated
with mission life in New Spain (Larsen and Harn, 1994). Moreover, the wellknown synergy between infectious disease and malnutrition likely exacerbated the
decline in health in these populations.
Skeletal modifications arising from reduced iron bioavailability are another important indication of health status used by biological anthropologists. Typically,
these modifications develop during the early childhood years and appear as sievelike bone lesions on the outer compact bone of the cranial vault (called porotic
hyperostosis) or the roof areas of the eye orbits (called cribra orbitalia; Fig. 6).
These changes are generally viewed as representing responses to iron deficiency
anemia during childhood (Stuart-Macadam, 1985, 1989). In this region of Spanish
Florida, the prehistoric populations have a very low prevalence of skeletal evidence for iron deficiency anemia (<8%)whereas the contact-period populations
have a relatively high prevalence (27% for Mission Santa Catalina de Guale).
Although the increase may be related to greater consumption of maize, it also
reflects a general decline in living conditions, such as presence of parasitism,
water contamination, and other factors influencing iron metabolism and bioavailability (see Larsen et al., 1992a; Stuart-Macadam and Kent, 1992).
Study of human remains from Guale has also provided considerable information
about the effects of increased labor demands on native populations. Native labor
played a n important-if not critical-role in the economic success of the Spanish in
the region. A variety of accounts describe the role of Indians in food production,
construction projects, cargo-bearing over long distances, and other activities
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Fig. 6. Cribra orbitalia in juvenile cranium from Florida coast (Santa Catalina de Guale de Santa
Maria, no. 41;photograph by Mark C. Griffin).
(Hann, 1988; Jones, 1978). One priest remarked that “All of the natives of these
provinces suffer great servitude, injuries, and vexations from the fact that the
governors, lieutenants, and soldiers oblige them to carry loads on their shoulders
to the Province of Apalachee. . . . [Mlore than three hundred [natives] are brought
to the fort at the time of the planting of corn, carrying their food and the merchandise of the soldiers on their shoulders for more than eighty leagues with the
result that some of them die and those who survive do not return to their homes
because the governor and the other officials detain them in the fort so they may
serve them. . . . This is the reason according to the commonly held opinion that they
are being annihilated at such a rate” (quoted in Hann, 1988:140-141).
Analysis of osteoarthritis, a skeletal disorder involving the degenerative
changes of articular joints due to physical wear and tear (Fig. 7), and the application of biomechanical analysis to long bone cross-sections reveal a consistent pattern of increasing mechanical demands on native populations in Guale (Fresia et
al., 1990; Larsen and Ruff, 1994; Ruff and Larsen, 1990). For example, there is an
increase in osteoarthritis prevalence in contact-period natives, which is likely
related to an increase in work demands (see Larsen and Ruff, 1994). Moreover, a
number of late contact natives had spondylolysis, a pathological condition whereby
the neural arches are separated from the vertebral bodies, typically in lower thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. This condition is frequently associated with individuals experiencing elevated levels of mechanical stress on the lower back (Bridges,
1989; Merbs, 1989b).
Biomechanical analysis of the cross-sections of diaphyses of femora and humeri
corroborates findings based on the study of diachronic patterns of osteoarthritis
prevalence. In this regard, cross-sectional geometric properties (areas and second
moments of area) increased in the contact period. These changes generally reflect
an increase in mechanical demand on these groups. Moreover, the higher second
moments of area may reflect weight gain due to increased consumption of carbohydrates and more sedentary lifeways in mission settings (Larsen and Ruff, 1994;
Larsen]
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Fig. 7. Skeletal manifestations of osteoarthritis. Top: Distal humerus showing polishing (eburnation)
and loss of bone on articular surface and marginal lipping. Bottom: Lumbar vertebra with extensive
marginal lipping (anatomical specimens; photographs by Barry Stark).
Ruff and Larsen, 1990). In at least two accounts, Spaniards remarked on native
body morphology in La Florida. In the 1630 Memorial of Fray Francisco Alonso de
Jesus, the natives were characterized as “corpulent” (Hann, 1992). Bishop Calderon observed in 1675 that they “are fleshy, and rarely is there a small one” (cited
in Hann, 1988:158). It is likely that these depictions of native body size and morphology reflect alterations in diet and mobility during the contact period (Larsen
and Ruff, 1994). Thus, the natives in the region were working harder, albeit in a
sedentary context.
Analysis of cross-sectional shape of the femoral midshaft provides information
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about mobility patterns (Ruff, 1987; Ruff et al., 1993). Generally speaking, higher
values of IJI,, (the ratio of bone strength in the anterior-posterior direction relative
to the medial-lateral direction in the midshaft cross-section) reflect behavioral
changes involving greater mobility, such as long-distance travel. In the contactperiod mission samples, males on average appear to have been less mobile than
their prehistoric predecessors (Larsen and Ruff, 1994). This finding is consistent
with the observation that mission populations were sedentary. On the other hand,
there were some males in the series that showed a high degree of mobility by this
measure. This finding is consistent with accounts during the mission period of
males being conscripted by the Spanish for labor projects involving long-distance
travel to distant localities (e.g., Hann, 1988).
The Spanish presence in the New World is oftentimes associated with what has
become known as the Black Legend, whereby Spaniards are viewed as cruel, avaricious, violent, treacherous authoritarians whose chief interest were “glory,
God, and gold” (Thomas, 1989; Weber, 1992). Because of the availability of hundreds of human skeletons from Spanish missions and other contact period sites
in La Florida, we now have abundant information on morbidity. Contrary to the
myths associated with the Black Legend, detailed studies by physical anthropologists show remarkably little evidence for traumatic injury resulting from swordyielding, gun-toting Spaniards. At the Tatham Mound site in gulf-coast Florida,
Hutchinson (1989, 1991; Hutchinson and Norr, 1994) has described postcranial
elements that exhibit cut marks caused by metal-edged weapons. The site is a
likely location for de Soto’s exploration through the region in 1539. At San Luis de
Talimali, the primary Christian mission established among the Apalachee, a n elite
adult male died from a gunshot wound (Larsen and Huynh, 1993). These are the
only two archaeological localities in Spanish Florida showing clear evidence of
violent death. Therefore, based on the study of hundreds of skeletal individuals,
osseous documentation for trauma resulting from violent encounters with Europeans is virtually nonexistent in a t least this area of New Spain.
Southwestern Pueblos
One of the most extensively documented regions of the New World is the American Southwest, especially regarding the wealth of archaeological, historical, and
ethnographic information for the Pueblo groups from the modern states of New
Mexico and Arizona. From about A.D. 1 to the mid-sixteenth century, the region
was occupied by sedentary and semisedentary groups who were dependent to varying degrees on maize and several other crops (especially beans and squash). At the
time of the first Spanish entrudus in the middle to late sixteenth century, Pueblo
groups were living in distinctive multifamily structures. In the eastern Pueblo
region of the Rio Grande Valley and its tributaries, population had increased
markedly during the last several centuries prior to European contact. Some of the
pueblos housed very large, complex societies (see Upham, 1992).
Inspired by Cabeza de Vaca, a 1539 expedition led by Fray Marcos de Niza
initiated sustained contact with native groups in the American Southwest. Eventually, a series of some 40 missions were established in New Mexico and Arizona
(Cordell, 1989). The mission era, the period of greatest interaction between Europeans and Native Americans, lasted from 1598 well into the nineteenth century.
During the period of rapid missionization of native populations, dramatic cultural
and social transformations took place. However, given the isolation of the region,
owing to its great distances from population centers in Mexico and on the East
Coast, low environmental productivity, and lack of valuable mineral resources, the
region did not experience the intensive settlement and exploitation by Euroamericans that was seen in many other areas of the Americas (Cordell, 1989).
Despite the relative degree of isolation, the effects of contact in this region were
profound (Upham, 1992). Because records are incomplete during the period prior to
missionization, the size of population a t the time of first contact is not known.
Upham (1992) has given a n estimate for native population size of somewhat
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greater than 130,000 based on the number of rooms occupied in Rio Grande pueblos
in A.D. 1500. This figure is likely high, and the true size may have been closer to
60,000 (see Palkovich, 1985, 1994). Based on his estimates, Upham (1992; see also
Palkovich, 1985) suggests that the depopulation of the region may have been about
50% in the first 100 years of contact, which is relatively low compared to most
other regions (see Ubelaker, 1992a,b).
The most complete documentation for the contact era in the Southwest is from
the mission period. Mission records from this period are incomplete, but nevertheless provide important insights into population distribution and change in response to introduced epidemic diseases a s well as other stressors. Epidemic disease,
along with the excessive demands from construction of missions, mining, farming,
and food tribute, took a heavy toll in lives and quality of life overall (e.g., Cordell,
1989; Spielmann, 1989; Spielmann et al., 1990). Palkovich (1994) has considered
the effects of introduced disease on Pueblo populations and other nearby groups.
Her findings confirm those of others (e.g., Reff, 1991; Walker and Johnson, 1994)
that specific epidemics were especially deadly for some population centers while
being virtually unknown in others. For example, analysis of burial records for San
J u a n Pueblo for the period of 1726 to 1781 indicates no major epidemic outbreaks;
for the same period, Pecos Pueblo was devastated.
The demands placed on native populations for food and other forms of tribute by
government and religious authorities led to extreme dietary shortfalls and famine
by the 1600s (Spielmann, 1989). In exchange for their efforts, native populations
gained very little. General resentment on the part of the native population in
response to these demands and increased missionary activity led to a major revolt
in 1680, resulting in the deaths of missionaries and Spanish settlers (Palkovich,
1985). The Spanish military returned to the region in 1692 commencing a series of
raids on native settlements resulting in the deaths of many natives, abandonment
of pueblos, and general disruption.
Study of precontact and contact-period human remains provides essential information about the effects of contact in this region. Analysis of stable carbon isotope
ratios from a number of southwestern localities indicates a high degree of dependence on maize in late prehistoric societies (Stodder and Martin, 1992). At Pecos
Pueblo, there is a shift in 613C values suggesting a decline in maize consumption
and its replacement by wild sources of plant foods during the contact period, for at
least this locality (Spielmann et al., 1990). Spielmann and coworkers suggest the
possibility t h a t the native dietary change resulted from demands for maize by the
Spanish and that any shortfalls for natives were made up by increased use of wild
plants.
Stodder (1994) and Stodder and Martin (1992) have reviewed bioarchaeological
studies on previously analyzed skeletal series as well a s their own research on
precontact and contact-period skeletons. Their findings show a remarkable degree
of variability in various measures of health and well-being. Prior to contact, the
high degree of dependence on maize in the Pueblo groups is reflected in their poor
dental health, especially with regard to high rates of dental caries and periodontal
disease (Stodder and Martin, 1992). It is unclear whether or not the decline in
maize consumption for Pecos Pueblo is present in other southwestern populations
because they exhibit some of the highest caries rates that have been reported for
the contact period in the American Southwest (e.g., Stodder and Martin, 1992).
There is a high prevalence of iron deficiency anemia in southwestern prehistoric
skeletal series (reviewed in Stodder and Martin, 1992). In the predominantly contact-period human remains studied from San Cristobal and Hawikku, Stodder
(1994) reports extremely high frequencies of cranial lesions indicative of anemia
(90% and 84%, respectively). These findings reflect high levels of anemia endemicity before and after contact. Although initially reported as reflecting a dietary
focus on maize (e.g., El-Najjar et al., 1975), the pattern is more likely a product of
a combination of circumstances that influence iron absorption, such as parasitism
and the well-known synergy between infection and poor nutrition.
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Documentation of skeletal infections, nonspecific and specific, shows some important temporal trends as revealed in the study of southwestern human remains.
In the Mogollon region, there is a n increase in skeletal infection prior to contact.
This trend appears to continue into the contact period as some of the highest
reported frequencies of periosteal reactions are from San Cristobal and Hawikku
(Stodder, 1994; Stodder and Martin, 1992). Proliferative lesions attributed to
treponematosis and osteolytic lesions attributed to tuberculosis are present at both
localities. The presence of these infections in the skeletal series likely reflects the
close, crowded living conditions associated with pueblo habitation.
Susceptibility to disease was almost certainly exacerbated by the famine situations and decaying living circumstances generally present during the contact period in the American Southwest. The possible presence of a tuberculosis epidemic
is suggested by a cluster of five adults with tubercular lesions in one interment at
San Cristobal (Stodder, 1994). This single instance probably grossly underestimates the true decline in health in these groups during the mission period.
Study of enamel defects in deciduous and permanent teeth in precontact and
contact skeletal series in southwestern groups indicates evidence for considerable
stress before and after the arrival of Europeans (Stodder, 1994). In deciduous teeth,
a high frequency of hypoplasias attests to the presence of maternal stress during
the fetal period. The two primary historic skeletal series studied thus far-San
Cristobal and Hawikku-show different patterns of physiological stress. That is,
Hawikku children have a tenfold greater frequency of deciduous incisor enamel
hypoplasias than San Cristobal children. Moreover, 94% and 85% of permanent
incisors in the Hawikku and San Cristobal dental samples are hypoplastic, respectively. These differences emphasize the differential population responses as well as
timing of stress during growth to the variety of stressors present both before and
after contact in the Southwest.
As noted above, interpersonal violence has been well documented in the Southwest. Woodbury (1959) asserts that warfare in this region was commonplace, and
recent archaeological analyses of stress and warfare in late prehistoric societies is
consistent with this assessment (cf. Haas and Creamer, 1992, 1993). Traumatic
injury due to both accidental and violence-related phenomena has been analyzed in
a variety of southwestern skeletal series. Compared to precontact skeletons, evidence of violent behavior evinces a slight tendency for a n increase in trauma in
contact skeletons (see Stodder and Martin, 1992). A significant proportion of traumatic injury may be related to inter-Pueblo feuding that is well documented for the
contact period. Over 40% of skeletons from the Gallina region have some type of
traumatic injury. Archaeological work a t Gallina sites has also demonstrated the
presence of fortifications and other evidence of hostile interactions (see Stodder
and Martin, 1992).
Analysis of cranial injury-mostly resulting from violent encounters-shows a n
increase from the late prehistoric to the contact periods in Rio Grande Pueblos.
Hawikku, San Cristobal, and Pecos crania have injury frequencies of 12%, 15%,
and 16%, respectively. These frequencies are very high for skeletal populations
generally. At Hawikku and San Cristobal, male crania are more affected than
female crania, which likely reflects the greater role of males than females in
warfare and intergroup violence, both with regard to inter-Pueblo warfare, which
was heightened during the contact period, as well as between natives and Spaniards.
Alta California Chumash
The settlement of Las Californias was the final large-scale colonial enterprise
initiated by Spain in the Americas (Costello and Hornbeck, 1989). Alta California,
the area north of Baja California, was first explored in the sixteenth century, but
full-scale colonization did not begin until the establishment of a series of 21 Christian missions on the Pacific coast extending from San Diego to San Francisco
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between 1769 and 1823. The area lying within the modern boundaries of the
present state of California contained some 220,000 to 310,000 native peoples representing perhaps the highest population density in North America prior to European contact (Cook, 197613; Ubelaker, 1992a; Walker and Johnson, 1992).
Ubelaker (1988, 1992a) has argued that its losses were among the most severe in
North America, representing a 95% reduction to less than 11,000 at population size
nadir in 1950. Reflecting the extreme diversity in environmental settings-from
harsh deserts to ecologically rich valleys-there is great variability in population
density, ranging from large, densely settled areas in highly productive environments (e.g., Central Valley, Santa Barbara Channel), to sparsely inhabited regions
in the vast deserts (Kroeber, 1925; Walker e t al., 1989).
Some of the first modern scholarship on the biological effects of contact on native
New World populations generally, and California populations (Alta and Baja) particularly, began with the work of historian Peveril Meigs I11 and physiologist
Sherburne Cook in the 1930s (e.g., Aschmann, 1959; Cook, 1935,1937,1940, 1943,
1947, 1955, 1976a,b; Cook and Borah, 1971-1979; Meigs, 1935). More recently,
Jackson and coworkers (Jackson, 1981a,b,c, 1983a,b, 1984,1985,1986,1987,1991,
1994; Langer and Jackson, 1988) and Johnson and coworkers (e.g., Johnson, 1989,
1993a,b, 1994; Larson et al., 1994; Walker and Johnson, 1994) have reported on
population characteristics, demography, and health of California Native Americans. These studies provide important historically based assessments of population
declines in this region of North America.
Studies of health and quality of life in the Chumash tribal group have recently
been undertaken by Walker and coworkers (Johnson, 1994; Walker et al., 1989;
Walker and Hudson, 1993; Walker and Johnson, 1992, 1994). Analysis of mission
records-some of the most complete for any region of the Americas-and examination of human remains from mission cemeteries have provided a n unusually rich
record of Native American health changes in the contact period. The biological
collapse of the Chumash-who occupied the islands and the adjacent mainland of
the Santa Barbara Channel region of Alta California-is well documented. At the
time of contact by Europeans, the Chumash were a chiefdom, exploiting a range of
marine (e.g., fish, shellfish, sea mammals) and terrestrial (acorns, grass seeds, root
crops) resources. Within a period of 50 years, most of the Chumash were associated
with missions (Johnson, 1989).
Like many of the other areas of New Spain, reduccion led to the removal of the
Chumash from traditional home villages to mission centers. Once entering the
mission, either by birth or by migration, a n individual’s name, age, and village of
origin were recorded by the priest. Many of these records have survived. Other
records, including deaths, marriages, baptisms, and related information, fill out
this enormously valuable profile of native population. In order to understand the
underlying processes leading to population decline in the Chumash, Walker and
Johnson (1992, 1994; Johnson, 1989) have cross-referenced baptism and burial
entries for several Chumash missions (Santa Barbara, La Purisima, Santa Ines)
for 8,476 individuals, representing 90% of all baptisms for these missions. These
data have been studied in relation to population decline, population structure,
epidemic history, and death and birth rates. They estimate that the population
plummeted from a peak of 5,602 in five missions in 1805 to 1,182 in 1832, the last
year of accurate records. By 1852, the population was reduced to fewer than 600
(Walker and Johnson, 1994). The differences between early (1782) and late (1822)
population pyramids are striking (Fig. 8). Comparison of the pyramids shows a
compressed base reflecting the combination of increased infant mortality and, also
importantly, reduction in birth rate during a 40-year period. This interpretation is
strongly supported by the marked decline in the number of births as well as the
increased number of infant deaths during the mission period (Walker and Johnson,
1994). Walker and Johnson (1994) point out that although epidemic diseases certainly took a toll, this only partly explains the deaths of infants. Other factors
contributing to young juvenile deaths include crowded, unsanitary living condi-
YEARBOOK OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY
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[Val. 37, 1994
Native Village Population of 1782
Males
300 200 100 0
Females
100 200 300
Mission Population of 1822
f
P
95-99 -
.E 55-59 Q)
m
a
15-19
Number of People
Fig. 8. Reconstructed population pyramids for Chumash populations. Top: Native villages in 1782.
Bottom: Mission population in 1822. Note compression of base in the later population (from PL Walker
and J R Johnson, The decline of the Chumash Indian-population. In CS Larsen and GR Milner (eds.):In
the Wake of Contact Biological Responses of Conquest. Copyright 0 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.; 1994; reproduced with permission of author and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).
tions leading to water contamination and the debilitating effects of congenital
syphilis (Walker et al., 1989).
The records of where and when epidemics struck at individual missions in California provide us with compelling evidence refuting Dobyns’s (1983) assertion
that pandemics swept throughout the Americas during the contact period (and see
Palkovich, 1994). With regard to the Chumash, villages were closely spaced allowing for frequent contact between different villages. Despite close proximity
between population concentrations, epidemics sometimes occurred a t one mission
but not another. Moreover, no cases of smallpox were reported among the Chumash prior to 1844, despite a number of opportunities for its introduction. During
the smallpox epidemic of 1844, population centers throughout California were
affected, resulting in huge losses (Johnson, 1993a). The epidemic did not reach
Santa Ines, but it ravaged San Luis Obispo and La Purisima as well as a number
of other localities. These observations are inconsistent with a model of even and
rapid spread of Old World pathogens as argued by Dobyns (1983).
Mission records contain abundant information for diseases and other healthrelated circumstances affecting the Chumash. For specific components of the population, the spread of infectious diseases in crowded missions was especially problematic. For instance, unmarried individuals of both sexes were forced to live in
cramped dormitories (Castillo, 1989), creating problems for sanitation and waste
disposal and resulting in rapid spread of respiratory infections. Priests frequently
commented in their reports on venereal syphilis, tuberculosis, and dysentery
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(Walker and Johnson, 1994). Syphilis, especially, resulted in increasing deaths. In
addition, the disease lowered fertility and increased morbidity due to other stressors (e.g., poor diets and acute infections). At Mission Santa Barbara, one priest
lamented that “the sicknesses found among these Indians are those common to all
mankind but the most pernicious and the one that has afflicted them most here for
some years is syphilis. All are infected with i t for they see no objection to marrying
another infected with it. As a result births are few and deaths many so that their
number of deaths exceed births by three to one” (quoted by Walker and Johnson,
1992:133 from Geiger and Meighan, 1976:74).
With the secularization of the missions during the 1830s, the population losses
continued due to greater number of deaths over births, epidemics, and out-migration (Johnson, 1993a). Moreover, continued conflicts between natives and European descendants and a variety of other factors contributed to a breakdown in
social order and elevated death rates.
Archaeological reconstructions of diet indicate that in precontact times, Chumash peoples enjoyed a remarkably diverse subsistence economy. However, in the
mission period, this diversity was replaced by a narrow dietary focus that was
decidedly European in flavor, including foods such as wheat, barley, beans, and
beef (Walker and Johnson, 1992). Comparison of food remains recovered by archaeologists from contact-period mission and nonmission village middens indicates
that individuals living away from the missions utilized domestic animals, but they
continued to exploit a range of other resources (Glenn et al., 1988). Fauna at
mission sites, however, are largely restricted to cattle and sheep (Walker and
Davidson, 1989).
Written documents indicate that in some years food was plentiful, and in other
years-especially during crop failures-there were food shortages. These observations indicate a general deterioration in nutrition quality, involving a decline in
diversity that was worsened by periodic food shortages.
Bioarchaeological investigations of precontact and contact-period Chumash human remains by Walker and coworkers (1989) have added a n important dimension
to their interpretations of the quality of life in the contact period based on their
complementary study of written documentation and mission records. Carbon and
nitrogen stable isotope analysis of human bone collagen in prehistoric natives from
the Santa Barbara Channel Islands confirms the presence of great diversity in diet
especially with regard to the heavy reliance on protein-rich marine foods during
late prehistory (Walker and DeNiro, 1986). In sharp contrast, analysis of isotope
ratios in a small sample of skeletons of Spanish settlers from the Santa Barbara
Presidio chapel (Costello and Walker, 1987) and natives from the La Purisima
mission cemetery indicates that marine foods contributed very little to diet during
the contact period, which emphasized terrestrial resources.
Comparisons of long bone dimensions (femoral midshaft anterior-posterior and
medial-lateral diameters) of prehistoric and mission-period natives provide a
rough indicator of nutritional adequacy (Walker et al., 1989). The skeletal measurements of mission natives are noticeably smaller than those of prehistoric natives, which may reflect growth retardation as a response to dietary stress. The
presence of physiological stress is also indicated in the analysis of enamel hypoplasias and periosteal reactions. In precontact California populations, there is a tendency for a n increase in frequency of both enamel defects and periosteal reactions,
culminating with the highest frequencies for these pathological conditions late in
prehistory (Lambert, 1993; Walker and Lambert, 1989). The apparent increase in
stress prior to contact is likely related a t least in part to periods of food shortages
caused by droughts and reduced marine productivity. Greater frequency of periosteal reactions indicates that population crowding facilitated the spread of infectious conditions. In the Chumash region, the hypoplasia prevalence in the La
Purisima neophytes is only slightly less than that seen in a protohistoric population in the densely populated Goleta Slough. These findings, therefore, provide
corroborative evidence for stress in both the mission and prehistoric natives.
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Central America Maya
Within the 60 years following the arrival of Spaniards in 1519 in Central America and Mesoamerica generally, native population size reduced dramatically (Marquez Morfin, 1984, 1991; Prem, 1991; White et al., 1994). As in much of the New
World, bioarchaeological research on the contact period has been limited in this
region, in part due to lack of interest, but also due to generally poor bone preservation in tropical environments and the small amount of contact-period archaeology relative to other time periods. Unlike many other regions of Central America,
the southern frontier of Yucatan, Belize, was characterized by a remarkable degree
of cultural and social stability (Pendergast, 1986). However, analysis of at least
two series of skeletons-from the communities of Lamanai (White et al., 1993,
1994) and Tipu (Cohen et al., 1994)-reveals that this stability is overlain by
biological change. As in La Florida, Spaniards in the Maya lowlands achieved a
high degree of success in supplanting native religious and belief systems. That is,
historic graves are typically Christian-style, located within or in the immediate
proximity of church structures.
First contact at Lamanai was made by Spaniards in about 1544. In 1641, a
native uprising against the Spanish resulted in the abandonment of the site. Unlike most southern lowland communities, Lamanai had continued to survive-if
not flourish-following the collapse of most other population centers after about
A.D. 900 (Pendergast, 1991). Excavation of precontact and contact-period human
remains has resulted in one of the best documented skeletal series in Central
America (White et al., 1994). Research on two areas of inquiry-dietary reconstructiodnutritional inference and physiological stress-has provided important
information on the biological history of the population.
The inhabitants of Lamanai had access to a range of foods from different ecological settings, including marine and terrestrial. Analysis of stable nitrogen and
carbon ratios in human bone samples indicates that maize was extremely important in prehistoric and contact diets (White and Schwarcz, 1989). These findings
are consistent with a very high prevalence of dental caries and extensive deposition of dental calculus both before and after contact (White, 1994; White et al.,
1994); the dental caries prevalence for precontact and contact natives are virtually
indistinguishable. Therefore, as opposed to what has been observed in La Florida
or in southwestern U S . natives, a t Lamanai the Spanish presence apparently had
little influence on native diets.
There is a marked increase in cribra orbitalia/porotic hyperostosis a t Lamanai
(White et al., 1994). Frequency of skeletal lesions increases from 9% (Postclassic)
to 17% (mission). The lack of evidence for change in foods eaten argues for a
nondietary cause of anemia, such as infectious disease and other factors commonly
associated with the pathology (see Larsen, 1987; Stuart-Macadam and Kent, 1992).
Parasitic infection is a strong candidate as a causative factor in iron deficiency
anemia. A number of parasites leading to dysentery were introduced by Spaniards
and African slaves, but hookworm and malaria were new pathological conditions
with the greatest potential for causing anemia (White et al., 1994). Parasitism, in
particular, continues to be a major health problem in Maya villages (e.g., Scrimshaw and Tejeda, 1970).
The microscopic structure of teeth yields important information about physiological stress. Wilson bands are microscopically visible enamel defects that, like
hypoplasias, represent growth disturbance (Goodman and Rose, 1990,1991). These
bands reflect periods of acute stress in contrast to the hypoplasias, which represent
periods of chronic stress (Goodman and Rose, 1990). Examination of tooth sections
from Lamanai dentitions reveals a marked increase in physiological stress where
mission natives have roughly three times the number of Wilson bands compared
with the prehistoric natives (Wright, 1990). There are a variety of acute stresses
that could likely explain the increase in microdefects. However, mission-period
epidemics are well documented for the neighboring Yucatan, including smallpox,
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measles, influenza, yellow fever, and possibly typhus (White et al., 1994). White
and coworkers argue that these infectious diseases “could easily have produced the
severe, acute stress signaled by Wilson bands” (1994:142).
The Maya town of Tipu has a similar population history during the contact
period as Lamanai. However, the town and its mission continued to be occupied by
Maya until 1707 when the native inhabitants were forcibly moved to Peten. It is
unclear, however, if the cemetery was used for burial until that date (Cohen e t al.,
1994). Excavations of the mission church resulted in the recovery of a large sample
of human remains. Some of these remains may be representative of Lamanai
individuals in that following a rebellion in 1641 the Lamanai population fled to
Tipu (White et al., 1994).
Unlike the Lamanai sample, there are relatively few precontact skeletons from
Tipu from which to compare different parameters of health and well-being (Cohen
et al., 1994). Therefore, some of the diachronic comparisons were made with precontact Maya from other archaeological sites (e.g., Copan, Tikal, Barton Ramie,
Seibal).
Cohen and coworkers (1994) have examined a variety of skeletal indicators of
health status at Tipu. Very low frequencies of skeletal trauma (fractures) and
infection (periosteal reactions) are present. Only one individual in the series shows
evidence of trauma reflecting interpersonal violence, which is represented by a
healed sword cut on a skull (Cohen e t al., 1994). Thus, despite tensions with the
Spanish, the evidence suggests that the Tipu Maya were insulated from direct
conflict.
In the Tipu series, there was no evidence of treponemal infection, such as proliferative remodeling in tibiae or dental stigmata commonly associated with congenital syphilis (see Jacobi et al., 1992). Moreover, there is no skeletal tuberculosis. On the other hand, cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis are present in high
frequencies (18.2% and 25.3%, respectively), indicating, a s for the other mission
settings-Lamanai and Guale-endemicity of iron deficiency anemia.
Many of the Tipu Maya have enamel hypoplasias (95% have a t least one tooth
affected). However, most of the enamel hypoplasias are relatively small, suggesting exposures to mild forms of chronic stress. There are low numbers of Wilson
bands a t Tipu, suggesting that these inland Maya populations may not have been
exposed to the epidemics that Lamanai was. The differences in health profiles
between Lamanai and Tipu Mayans may reflect intensity of contact with Europeans. On the one hand, Lamanai served as a reduccidn center for most of its colonialera history, while Tipu was only minimally affected by this kind of population
concentration (Pendergast, 1991). Tipu was also located further from the Spanish
center of control at Bacalar than Lamanai (Graham, 1991). As noted by Graham
(1991:333), this greater remoteness from Spanish presence in this region may have
meant that “extended family networks so necessary to childrearing and to maintaining one’s diet and health would not have been as severely disrupted; husbands
would not have had to flee from Spanish tribute collectors, women would not have
had to raise children on their own, mothers would not have lacked sufficient breast
milk for their babies.” Therefore, the picture of relatively less morbidity a t Tipu
may reflect the reduced intensity of Spanish presence relative to Lamanai.
Central Plains Omaha and Ponca
After the first European incursion into this region by Coronado in 1541, the
central Plains (modern Nebraska and Kansas) saw periods of intermittent contact
with other Spanish explorers, followed by French traders and trappers, and in the
late eighteenth century, by Euroamerican settlers (Bolton, 1949; Strong, 1935;
Wedel, 1961). Well into the nineteenth century, the region was largely viewed as
unfit or otherwise inappropriate for Euroamerican settlement (see Wedel, 1961).
Among others, this view was shared by the American explorer Zebulon Pike
(1810), who said that the United States should “. . . leave the prairies incapable of
cultivation to the wandering and uncivilized aborigines . . .” (quoted in Wedel,
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1961:278). Although considered unsuitable for Euroamerican habitation, the region nevertheless served as a n important source of furs and other trade items.
Contacts between Europeans and natives were mostly commercial. Therefore, interaction was very different than in other regions, such as those controlled by
Spain. To be sure, contact led to changes in native settlement and dietary practices
in the central Plains, but the Spanish pattern of conquest, missionization, and
colonization was not present.
In the Missouri River valley of the central Plains, Reinhard and coworkers
(1994) have undertaken a n interdisciplinary study of native health and well-being
from a n area of northeastern Nebraska occupied by the Omaha and closely related
Ponca tribes. Unlike many groups that resisted the encroachment of Europeans
and the accompanying disruptions, these tribes aggressively pursued trade relations with Euroamericans, especially with regard to lucrative furs. In the beginning of the trade period in the early eighteenth century, contacts with native
groups were primarily undertaken by individual entrepreneurs. By the late eighteenth century, trade was dominated by the far-reaching American Fur Company.
Due to the highly exploitative nature of the more aggressive manner of trading
pursued by large companies, destruction of environments and native populations
was greatly accelerated. It is during this time that Omaha and Ponca populations
began a downward t u r n in population size and health status.
During the four-decades between 1780 and 1820, trade between native populations in northeastern Nebraska and the American Fur Company saw the emergence of the Omaha as a major economic and political force in this area of the
central Plains (Reinhard et al., 1994). The rich ethnohistorical, archaeological, and
human osteological records for the Great Plains generally provide a compelling
picture of change in lifestyle and health in native populations in response to new
social, cultural, and biological conditions arising from the fur trade and other
interactions with Europeans and Euroamericans (see also Owsley, 1991, 1992;
Owsley and Jantz, 1994; Palkovich, 1981; Ramenofsky, 1987; n i m b l e , 1992).
Human skeletal analysis in northeastern Nebraska involves the study of remains recovered from Omaha and Ponca cemeteries. Two Omaha cemeteries are
associated with the Tonwatonga village (ca. 1780-18331, first mentioned by Lewis
and Clark in 1804. The Ponca are represented by a series of human remains from
one cemetery dating to the same period.
Comparisons between the Omaha-Ponca contact and prehistoric human remains
confirm the ethnohistoric evidence for diet and activity. That is, carbon isotope
analysis shows a shift from maize to nonmaize diets, which likely reflects a n
alteration in traditional diets. That is, a s is characteristic of other native populations in the eastern Plains and Woodlands, maize played a n important role in
native diets. With the increased emphasis on trade, there appears to have been a
greater use of wild, gathered plants a s well as animal sources of protein (Reinhard
et al., 1994). The increase in use of animal protein reflects the introduction of the
horse and greater access to firearms acquired in trade relationships with Euroamericans and other native groups. Occlusal wear in the contact-period dentitions, especially in female anterior teeth, reflect these changes. Female anterior
teeth show extensive wear arising from their use in animal hide preparation.
In addition to animal hides and other trade items, the Omaha acquired lead from
Missouri, which was used for manufacture of ornaments and musket balls (Reinhard and Ghazi, 1992). Measurement of lead concentrations in the Omaha skeletons indicates t h a t all skeletons have some amount of lead, with juveniles and
adult males having the highest concentrations. Unusually high concentration values exceed clinically reported cases and are among the highest reported in historicera people in the Americas. Analysis of mortuary practices and other behaviors
indicates that the Omaha applied lead-based pigments to the corpse prior to burial,
which may account for some of the higher values of lead. However, lead was likely
absorbed in life a s well, such a s during the manufacture of musket balls and
maintenance of weaponry.
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Another potential source of lead absorption is a lead-based red pigment that was
used as a cosmetic by the Omaha. Frequent use of this pigment would have resulted in lead exposure. Therefore, although some lead may have been derived
from mortuary ritual activities, its biogenetic origin is likely, thereby leading to
measurably toxic levels i n some individuals.
The introduction of the horse and the attendant alterations in subsistence behavior influenced Omaha and Ponca workloads and activity patterns during the
trade era. Study of osteoarthritis of the vertebral column indicated that although
the prevalence was higher prior to contact, severity was greater during the trade
period (Reinhard et al., 1994). Frequencies of other vertebral pathological conditions associated with mechanical demands-Schmorl’s nodes and spondylolysiswere decidedly greater in the contact Omaha and Ponca skeletons compared with
prehistoric natives in the region. Moreover, females showed greater pathological
involvement than males, suggesting that the alterations in lifestyle in the contact
period were more profound for women than men.
The impact of the shift to horse riding is especially clear. Skeletal pathology and
nonpathological changes associated with horse riding are present in a number of
skeletons. These skeletal modifications associated with habitual horse riding include elongation of the acetabulum, extension of the articular surface of the femoral head onto the femoral neck, and degenerative pathology of the first metatarsal
(from use of toe stirrups). A number of male riders showed trauma-related fractures, possibly resulting from falls from horses.
Polynesia: Native Hawai’i
Biological change in native societies due directly or indirectly to the effects of
European expansion was felt in many other areas of the world outside of the
Americas (see Crosby, 1986). Biological change in Hawai’i has been assessed by
Pietrusewsky and Douglas (1994) based on the analysis of human remains from
precontact and contact-period cemeteries. First European contact by Captain
James Cook in 1778 was considerably later than for other regions discussed in this
article, but the consequences for native populations are comparable in many regards (Pietrusewsky and Douglas, 1994).
The precontact history of human population in this area of Polynesia demonstrates a n unusually successful adaptation, having grown from a n original founding population of perhaps a few hundred people to about 250,000 individuals organized into a series of complex chiefdoms (Kirch, 1985). By the middle of the
nineteenth century, the population had experienced many of the same epidemic
diseases and negative influences documented in the Americas, resulting in a reduction to about 80,000 (see Stannard, 1989, 1992).
Archaeological reconstructions of diet indicate that native Hawaiians exploited
marine as well as some terrestrial resources (Kirch, 1985). Dental evidence for
dietary change during the contact period is suggested by the marked rise in calculus deposits a s well a s reduction in severity of tooth wear. Dental caries prevalence was similar in the precontact and contact groups, although a slight frequency
reduction in contact dental caries may reflect a decrease in use ofpoi, a sticky food
that was a traditional dietary staple in native Hawaiians (Pietrusewsky and Douglas, 1994).
A range of other health indicators such as porotic hyperostosis indicates that
prehistoric and historic Hawaiians were subject to similar levels of physiological
perturbation. On the other hand, a marked increase in enamel hypoplasias (from
7.7% to 23.8% in incisors and canines, respectively) argues for elevated stress
levels due to disease, nutritional deficiency, or a combination of the two. The
historic documentation of specific diseases that struck the Hawaiian Islands during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries indicates that smallpox was especially devastating. In at least one contact-period cemetery, there is skeletal
evidence of smallpox affecting one individual. The skeletal documentation of this
infectious disease is especially important because it has been described in only one
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other contact-period setting (cf. Jackes, 1983). Infectious lesions characteristic of
tuberculosis and trepanematosis are also present.
Although interpersonal violence and warfare are documented in this and other
areas of Polynesia (e.g., see Owsley et al., 19941, there is a very low frequency of
fractures or other forms of trauma affecting the skeleton in both the precontact and
contact periods (1.0%and 1.6%,respectively, for all limb bones combined).
Estimation of levels of mechanical stress on the articular joints shows that there
is an overall tendency for contact-period skeletons to have more advanced levels of
osteoarthritis than precontact skeletons. Analysis of individual articular joints
shows that the sternoclavicular and humeral head articular surfaces and margins
are more arthritic in contact skeletons than in precontact skeletons, suggesting
significant alterations in use of the upper limb by native Hawaiians after contact
(Pietrusewsky and Douglas, 1994).
Comparison of regional studies
Comparison of the six regions, five from the Americas and one from Polynesia,
discloses a number of important similarities and differences in the contact experience. In all but Hawai’i, initial contacts between native populations and Europeans were made during the first half of the sixteenth century, which involved
infrequent, sometimes violent, encounters. Later, long-term contact was established in the form of Catholic missions or in trade exchanges. Analysis of stable
isotopes argues that dietary shifts occurred for most areas, but in different ways.
The Guale of La Florida increased their maize consumption, while Mayans show no
change and Pueblo and Plains tribes show a decrease in use of this plant. Coastal
natives from La Florida and Alta California experienced a decrease in use of
marine foods and overall decline in the diversity of the food base.
All populations examined exhibit some evidence of increased physiological
stress. Where data are available, contact-period populations generally have high
frequencies of enamel hypoplasias, indicating elevated levels of physiological perturbation. The Maya samples from Tipu and Lamanai exhibit different frequencies
of Wilson bands-Lamanai dentitions have a marked increase in these microdefects, while Tipu dentitions have a relatively low number. Other evidence of biological stress in these samples-iron deficiency anemia, skeletal infection, and
dental caries-generally indicates reductions in health status, with some notable
exceptions. For example, Tipu Maya have few periosteal lesions. Given the presence of generally negative circumstances under which these populations were living, this finding is difficult to interpret. Cohen and coworkers (1994) suggest the
possibility of rapid death from acute illnesses rather than presence of chronic
illnesses that affect bone.
Three of the regional studies dealt with issues related to behavior and activity
changes resulting from alterations in lifestyle during the contact period. In La
Florida, increases in osteoarthritis prevalence and changes in bone strength indicate that native populations were more sedentary (with the exception of some
males) but subjected to increased workloads. In Omahas and Poncas, increase in
osteoarthritis severity also indicates a probable increase in mechanical demand
during the trade era. In addition to increasing access to animal sources of protein
(these populations also show a reduction in maize consumption), the introduction
of the horse resulted in increased risk of injury (from falls) as well as skeletal
adaptations reflecting horse riding, especially in males. As for these groups, there
is a tendency for contact-period Hawaiians to have a greater prevalence of osteoarthritis than precontact Hawaiians, especially in the shoulder area. The change in
the pattern of distribution of osteoarthritis in the skeleton may reflect significant
alterations in behavior during the contact period.
Skeletal evidence of violence shows variation across the different regions discussed in this article. In La Florida and Maya Spanish missions, there is little
skeletal evidence to suggest an increase in violent encounters. Similarly in Hawai’i,trauma is notably infrequent. In the skeletal series from southwestern Pueb-
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POSTCONTACT NATIVE AMERICAN BIOLOGY
141
los, however, there is an increase in cranial trauma, which reflects increased
inter-Pueblo warfare during the contact period as well as violent encounters between Europeans and natives.
In sum, these regional studies, which utilize human remains as an important
data source, display important similarities and differences in temporal trends,
especially with regard to health status during the contact period (and see other
analyses by Baker, 1994; Barondess, 1992; Blakely, 1988; Blakely and DetweilerBlakely, 1989; Buikstra, 1976; Carlson et al., 1992; Cybulski, 1978, 1994; Drusini
et al., 1987; Hanson, 1992; Hedman, 1993; Hoshower and Milanich, 1993; Humphreys, 1969; Hutchinson, 1991; Hutchinson and Norr, 1994; Marquez Morfin,
1984; Meer, 1985; Murray, 1989; Owsley, 1991, 1992; Owsley et al., 1994; Pfeiffer
and Fairgrieve, 1994; Storey, 1992; Sullivan, 1989, 1990, 1994; Ubelaker, 1992c,
1994; Wilson, 1987; Wray et al., 1987). On the other hand, the variability is also
closely tied to local conditions and circumstances that were in place well before the
arrival of Europeans.
CONTINUED CONSEQUENCES OF CONTACT
Although most native groups had experienced the effects of contact with Europeans by the mid-nineteenth century, the consequences continue to the present
day. At the turn of the century, HrdliEka (1908) collected data on health status in
native populations living in the greater Southwest. Among other diseases, he
observed that tuberculosis among native groups ranged from low to “appalling”
levels.
HrdliEka (1908) also remarked on the presence of obese individuals, relating the
condition to more settled life on reservations. Physical anthropologists have continued to track the incidence of obesity in Native Americans. The global epidemic
of obesity following World War I1 has been far more dramatic in Native American
populations. In Pimas, the increase in body mass in men and women is especially
striking in comparing pre- and post-1945 birth cohorts (Knowler et al., 1983; Price
et al., 1993). Almost certainly, these trends can be tied directly to increased sedentary behavior as well as an increased consumption of foods with high fat content,
a development brought about by increased exposure to Western diets (see also
Johnston et al., 1978; Johnston and Schell, 1979; Neel, 1977; Rhoades et al.,
198710).
Obesity is a major risk factor for non-insulin-dependent (type 11) diabetes. Diabetes is another chronic disease that affects native populations a t epidemic levels
in the twentieth century (Baker, 1988; Knowler et al., 1983; Mahoney et al., 1989;
Rhoades et al., 1987b; Stinson, 1992; Young, 1993; Szathmary, 1993). The increases since the turn of the century, and especially after 1940, are profound:
HrdliEka (1908) documented only one case of diabetes among the Pima, and by the
1970s, 50% of Pima adults over age 35 diabetic (Knowler et al., 1983). The prevalence of diabetes in native groups is well above the United States population as a
whole. In New York State, for example, Mahoney and coworkers (1989) have documented significantly high mortality in members of the Seneca due to this disease.
Native Americans, and Asian (or north Asian) populations, may have a genetic
predisposition to diabetes, but the tremendous increase in rates during the twentieth century suggests environmental influence (see also Stinson, 1992).
The shocking effects of infectious disease on native populations in the New
World have been well documented in the twentieth century. The 1918 influenza
pandemic resulted in the deaths of 21 million people worldwide, including a half
million Americans (Wallechinsky and Wallace, 1975). Mortality rates among Native American populations were among some of the highest reported. For example,
some areas of the Navajo reservation in Arizona saw as much as 15% mortality
(Russell, 1985).
For many areas of the Americas, native lives continue to be disrupted in ways
that are disconcertingly similar to events of the early years of conquest in the
sixteenth century. Since the late 1970s, many thousands of Mayans living in Gua-
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[Vol. 37, 1994
temala have died as a result of state-sponsored terrorism, and some one million
Maya have been displaced or fled from their homes due to military counterinsurgency tactics (Lovell, 1988).
Moreover, chronic undernutrition continues to retard growth in every Maya
population that has been studied (e.g., Crooks, 1994; Mata, 1978). This condition is
especially pronounced in populations experiencing highly elevated infection and
infectious disease loads (see discussion in Mata, 1978).
The Amazon River basin of South America has been the focus of social, cultural,
economic, and environmental disruptions over the course of the last 20 years as a
result of rapid development (Hemming, 1985; Schmink and Wood, 1984). As the
frontiers of this immense region are pushed back, colonization by miners, ranchers,
and settlers into once-remote territories has resulted in the introduction of new
diseases and deterioration in health. The ecological devastation brought about by
unsound farming and mining practices has resulted in a loss in habitats, and
hence, availability of foods and other essential resources. First contact for the
Waorani of Ecuador began in the late 1950s with the arrival of Christian missionaries. By 1968, mortality resulting from epidemics began to rise precipitously
(Alchon, 1991; Kaplan et al., 1984). Similarly, Neel and coworkers (Neel et al.,
1970; Neel, 1977) observed elevated mortality and social disruption among the
Yanomami by the 1970s. Since that time, poor nutrition and growth status have
been observed (e.g., Holmes, 1985), and many thousands of this group continue to
die from recently introduced diseases. The plight of the Yanomami was made
internationally known after many were massacred by miners during the summer
of 1993 (Wilford, 1994).
Santos (1991, 1992) has completed a n investigation of several Brazilian TupiMonde groups (Gaviao, Surui, Zoro) in relation to frontier expansion and biological
implications of disruption. The declines in health in these populations are obvious:
in addition to marked increases in mortality due to measles and other newly
introduced infectious diseases, there is widespread protein-calorie malnutrition,
parasitic infection, poor sanitation, high levels of nutritional anemia, and general
lack of health care. In a n innovative approach to assessing patterns of physiological disruption due to these factors, Santos (1991, 1992) compared enamel defects
(hypoplasias) in living natives. Virtually all individuals (99.1%) and nearly all
teeth examined (77.5%) were affected by this indicator of growth disruption. These
values exceed or approach all other reported data from developed and virtually all
underdeveloped nations (reviewed in Santos, 1991).
Chronological assessment of age of defect appearance in half-year and one-year
increments in Tupi-Monde individuals aged 7 to 65 years (based on matching of the
defect with dental developmental standards [Massler et al., 19411) yielded diachronic data for four periods: 1930-1959,1960-1969,1970-1979, and 1980-1989
(Santos, 1991, 1992). The older and younger individuals yielded comparative data
on the respective earlier and later decades. Interestingly, the peaks of hypoplasia
occurrence match closely the period of initial contact and associated elevated levels
of physiological stress in the three groups. That is, the earliest contacted Gaviao
have peak frequencies for the 1930s-1950s decades, and the later contacted Surui
and Zor6 have peak frequencies for the 1960s-1970s and the 1970s decades, respectively. The peak frequencies in these groups clearly point to the biologically
disruptive nature of contact in recent times.
CONCLUSIONS
The Columbian quincentenary spurred a proliferation of research involving
many different disciplines. Historians, geographers, demographers, anthropologists, and others embarked on programs of study devoted to the consequences of
contact for native populations in the New World and elsewhere. Although many of
these discussions deal with biological issues, until recently there has been a surprising dearth of research reported by physical anthropologists.
A greatly underutilized source of information about the consequences of contact
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143
is human skeletal material recovered from archaeological sites. In the last 20 years
or so, bioarchaeologists have developed a research protocol for the analysis of
human remains that is directly applicable to the. comparative analysis of skeletons
from pre- and postcontact archaeological sites (IScan and Kennedy, 1989; Larsen,
1987; Saunders and Katzenberg, 1992). In particular, study of various stress indicators, such as enamel defects, porotic hyperostosis, and periosteal reactions, has
proven very useful in monitoring changes in health status; analysis of bone structure and osteoarthritis has provided important details about change in activity
patterns; and the documentation of stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen has
given much more precise information about diet composition. The research begun
by physical anthropologists-some of which has been reviewed here-attests to the
importance of using osteological samples for assessing and documenting the history of the human condition.
In addition to the specific points discussed in this article, several general findings emerging from these studies have been underplayed or ignored. That is, there
are no clear-cut dichotomies between pre- and postcontact populations in relation
to health and well-being. Certainly, there were widespread declines in population
size. On the other hand, there is now substantial evidence showing that precontact
populations were not free from debilitating, life-threatening diseases as has so
often been assumed (e.g., Cook and Lovell, 1991a; Dobyns, 1983; Sale, 1990). Nor
did prehistoric populations live in a conflict-free setting. Rather, various bioarchaeological studies establish that conflict existed in patterns similar to those of
ethnographically and historically observed small-scale societies.
Osteologically based analyses indicate that some of the native groups had already experienced declines in health prior to the arrival of Europeans. For example, in the American Southeast, Southwest, and California, there are appreciable
increases in the prevalence of skeletal infections and other morbid conditions.
Therefore, it may be the case that the health of some of the native groups contacted
by Europeans was already compromised at the time of first encounters. One thing,
however, is certain: none of the populations contacted were prepared for the onslaught of Old World infectious diseases and other new conditions brought to the
New World as a result of European colonialism. However, the great variability in
native responses to the introduction of diseases and other stressors must be kept in
mind.
Studies of archaeological human skeletal remains serve to show the finer details
of health and activity that can be gleaned from osseous remains. Used in combination with other kinds of data (archaeological and historical), a n understanding
of the biological consequences of the interaction between peoples from the New
World and the Old is closer than a decade ago. This interdisciplinary, conjunctive
approach has proven of enormous value in the study of the contact period, in at
least some regions (e.g., Gannon, 1992).
The research efforts outlined in this article contribute to larger discussions of
issues related to human evolution and variation in general. In this regard, the
osteological studies discussed provide data that have contributed to issues of interest to physical anthropologists in general, including the evolution of skeletal
robusticity and activity patterns in Homo (Ruff et al., 1993; Trinkaus et al., 1994),
evolution of diet and nutritional ecology in humans (Schwarcz and Schoeninger,
1991), and patterns of diet and tooth use in hominoids, including modern humans
(Teaford, 1991).
One important lesson to be learned from research on native New World populations is t h a t although rapid extinction within a generation or two following
initial contact with Europeans characterizes some areas, many groups survived
and accommodated new and biologically challenging circumstances. There has
been a tendency to be singularly impressed with the declines in native populations
during the last 500 years since initial contact with Europeans. On the other hand,
we should be equally impressed with the truly remarkable resilience of native
groups, despite unbelievable pressures-labor exploitation, displacement, disease,
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[Vol. 37, 1994
crowding, dietary change and malnutrition-during the same time frame. The
demographic resurgence brought about by declining mortality and increasing fertility, especially during the twentieth century, is resulting in a rebound in population numbers for many tribal groups (Johansson, 1982). Assessment of population recovery of native New World peoples (e.g., Ubelaker, 1992a,c) and evidence
of improving life expectancy at birth for native populations generally in the last
two decades (e.g., Rhoades et al., 1987a) illustrate that Native Americans continue
to be a vital part of today’s human landscape of the Americas.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Thanks are extended to Ted Steegmanh for inviting me to write this article.
Arthur Aufderheide, George Milner, Ricardo Santos, and Norman Sullivan provided unpublished information. A number of individuals read earlier drafts of the
paper, which has greatly contributed to its clarity. I especially thank David Barondess, Patricia Bridges, Stephen Davis, James Hijiya, Dale Hutchinson, Christine Larsen, George Milner, Trawick Ward, Christine White, and two anonymous
reviewers.
Research on Spanish Florida mission period populations was completed under
the auspices of the La Florida Bioarchaeology Project, supported by funding from
the National Science Foundation (awards BNS-8406773, BNS-8703849, BNS8747309, SBR-9305391), the National Endowment for the Humanities (award RK20111-94), American Museum of Natural History, Edward John Noble Foundation, St. Catherines Island Foundation, the Florida Museum of Natural History
and the Institute for Early Contact Period Studies at the University of Florida, Dr.
and Mrs. George H. Dorion, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and Sigma
Xi. Other significant resources for this research came from my home institutions
over the years since the inception of the project in 1982 (University of Massachusetts a t Dartmouth, Northern Illinois University, Purdue University, and the University of North Carolina a t Chapel Hill). I also thank my collaborators: Christopher Ruff, Margaret Schoeninger, Dale Hutchinson, Katherine Russell, Scott
Simpson, Mark Teaford, Mark Griffin, and Inui Choi. Bioarchaeological fieldwork
in Georgia and Florida was made possible through productive collaborations with
David Thomas on St. Catherines Island, Georgia, Jerald Milanich and Rebecca
Saunders on Amelia Island, Florida, and Bonnie McEwan a t the San Luis Archaeological and Historic Site in Tallahassee, Florida.
Many of the regional studies discussed in this article were presented in papers a t
a symposium that George Milner and I organized for the 1992 meetings of the
American Association of Physical Anthropologists held in Las Vegas, Nevada (now
published in Larsen and Milner, 1994).
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