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Home arrow Health arrow Bodies and Lives in Ancient America: Health Before Columbus
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Mississippian/Lower Illinois River Valley

At Dickson Mounds, intense agricultural activities combined with fairly densely settled communities put the population at risk for infections, anemia, and trauma as discussed previously. While there were large skeletal populations analyzed, the research consistently lumped all of the adults together in one age category that included all 15- to 65-year-olds. Therefore, it is difficult to tease out the experience of the elderly in these settings (Goodman et al. 1984). Osteoarthritis rates for females jumped from 41% in the foraging groups to 67% in the agricultural groups and for males it went from 38% to 76% (Goodman et al. 1984: 295). While these data do not tell us how bad osteoarthritis might have been for the oldest adults, it does suggest that for all adults osteoarthritis rates increase significantly with agricultural lifestyles. It would be worthwhile to go back and reexamine the data, teasing out the older adults from the younger adults to see how each group within adulthood was affected by the intensification of an agricultural way of life.

Georgia Bight

For a sample of 142 individuals from one of the islands in the George Bight dating from about ad 1150 to 1450, only 4 individuals were aged 45+ years, and so no meaningful study of those individuals is likely to capture what aging was like (Larsen et al. 1990). A larger sample of 23 individuals over the age of 45 represented the earlier preagricultural foraging period and from those it was shown through analysis of the demographic features of the populations that the most robust (and presumably healthy) were the foragers, with more possibilities for early death in the agricultural periods leading up to contact. Data on bone structure for the three temporally spaced groups showed that the nutritional level and general activity level declined when comparing the foragers to the agricultural groups. Long-distance travel in particular decreased for males who likely took on more of the agricultural tasks (Ruff and Larsen 1990: 119).

 
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