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Health Of American Indians On Decline Before Columbus Arrived

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« on: March 22, 2009, 07:15:33 am »

The index also included European and African American groups. With a rank of 28 out of 65, antebellum blacks buried at Philadelphias African Church in the 1800s were in the top half of the health index. This group had health superior to small-town, middle-class whites, Steckel said.

It suggests that it was possible for a socially disadvantaged group to carve out a life with reasonably good health in an early 19th-century city, Steckel said.

On the other hand, plantation slaves buried in a South Carolina site ranked third to last on the health index.

While its not surprising that slaves ranked lowest among the African-American sites, it is remarkable that the slaves were so near the bottom in overall rankings, Steckel said. Their health was comparable to pre-Columbian Indian populations threatened with extinction.

Many of the healthiest groups included in the index lived along the coast. Others lived in the interior of the United States, where they presumably hunted for and gathered food. The healthiest sites were typically the oldest sites, substantially predating Columbus arrival. But equestrian nomads of the 19th century were also among the healthiest groups in the study.

People living in rural settlements were typically healthy skeletons found in these areas had less evidence of any of the negative health indicators than did skeletons excavated from large settlements.

While living in small settlements seemed to decrease the development and spread of disease, congested living, laced with migration and trade, helped lead to a decline in health, Steckel said. Infections increased as people began congregating in cities, and the worldwide spread of disease had begun by the 1400s.

The health index gives us one way to trace the emergence of modern diseases as well as a way to track the early impacts that globalization had on the spread of disease.

Studying historical data can help researchers learn about the resilience of health in developing countries, as many modern health problems have roots reaching deep into the past.

But the long-term evolution of health and disease is not simply a story that follows from the rise of settled agriculture and urbanization, Steckel said. There are other variables responsible for health, including climate, elevation, proximity to the coast and topography.

The researchers plan to analyze future versions of the health index using such variables.

The Western Hemisphere project has been a pilot for a project with global vision, Steckel said. We want to develop these tools and use them in archeological sites around the world.


Adapted from materials provided by Ohio State University.
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 MLA Ohio State University (2002, November 1). Health Of American Indians On Decline Before Columbus Arrived In New World. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 22, 2009, from /releases/2002/11/021101070028.htm
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