Reinhard, Karl J. (1988-12). Diet, parasitism, and anemia in the prehistoric southwest. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The primary goal of this study is the demonstration of the utility of parasitological data retrueved from coprolites in documenting prehistoric infectious disease. The study focuses on levels of infection of two subsistence types, hunting-gathering and agriculture. Analysis of differences between the two types, and of variation of parasitism between sites of the same type, are presented. It is demonstrated that parasitism was more common among hinter-gathers than agricultural populations. Parasitism is shown to have been mediated by ecology and human behavior among agricultural sites. A second goal is the integration of parasitological data with evidence of pathology derived from skeletal analysis. The parasitological data corelate well with skeletal data relating to anemia and suggest that parasitological analysis can complement osteological analysis when approaching questions of prehistoric health. The study demonstrates the value of parasitological data in the general rubric of bioarchaeology. Dietary data were evaluated with respect to the maize dependdency hypothesis of iron deficience anemia. A log tradition of dietary specialization among Archaic hunter-gathers is documented which led to dietary specialization on cultivated crops in agricultural times. However, dependence on agricultural foods is highly variable and can not accound for prehistoric anemia alone. The various analyses demonstrate the power of incorporating dietary, parasitological and osseous pathology data in assessing health of prehistoric peoples. Specific contributions of the study are the eludiation of parasitism among dilute hunter-gather bands and concentrated populations of agricultural people. It is shown that zoonotic infection was common among both groups, but the advent of agriculture resulted in an increase of human specific parasitism. The increase in human specific parasitism resulted from poor hygienic conditions, sendtism and population aggregation. JHowever, it is clear that local ecology, excreta disposal systems, and foraging behavior at certain agricultural sites reduced the level of parasitism. Thus, both ecology and social adaptation are documented as lowering the impact of parasitism.

publication date

  • December 1988