Bioarchaeological Analysis of Subsistence and Health at the Lake George Site, Mississippi (22Yz557)

Article excerpt

Bioarchaeological investigations of subsistence and health were conducted on a skeletal population from the Lake George site (22YZ557), a large prehistoric settlement in the lower Yazoo basin of west-central Mississippi. Subsistence is inferred from oral health indicators (including dental caries, calculus, periodontal disease, abscesses, antemortem tooth loss, and macrowear) and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios from bone collagen and apatite. Health is inferred from nonspecific indicators (including cranial porous lesions, enamel hypoplasias, and Harris lines). The sample includes 25 adults and 25 subadults, all of which date to the Coles Creek period (A.D. 700-1200). Frequencies of all pathological conditions are reported for the entire sample and divided by sex and age for adults. Results indicate a heavy pathology load at Lake George, but one that is not dissimilar to other Coles Creek populations. Isotope values indicate a diet that included primarily C^sub 3^ plants (δ^sup 13^C^sub Col^ = -21.03[per thousand], δ^sup 13^C^sub Ap-Diet^ = -22.06) and terrestrial protein (δ^sup 15^N = 9.72[per thousand]). The sources of nonspecific pathologies are attributed to stressors associated with increasing population density and cultural complexity that occurred during the Coles Creek period.

The relationship between diet and social complexity has long been of interest to archaeologists and remains a central topic of research in bioarchaeology (Cohen and Crane-Kramer 2007; Schoeninger and Schurr 1994). Both dietary reconstruction and the dietary transition provide insight into many aspects of past cultures, including social or demographic change and prehistoric health (Cohen and Crane-Kramer 2007; Lambert 2000; Larsen 2006; Steckel and Rose 2002). While maize agriculture no longer is considered essential for the emergence of permanent settlements and complex societies, the timing of the dietary transition from foraging to agriculture, and the rapidity with which such practices were adopted, are still important considerations in the cultural evolution of the New World (Cook 2007; Danforth et al. 2007; Larsen et al. 2007; Pechenkina et al. 2007). Of considerable interest in this evolution is that agriculture was adopted at different rates, times, and intensities in different geographical regions (Gremillion 2002; Smith 1998).

The Lake George site (22YZ557), located in westcentral Mississippi near the junction of the Sunflower and Yazoo rivers, provides an opportunity to examine the dietary transition and prehistoric health in the southern lower Mississippi Valley (Williams and Brain 1983) (Figure 1). The site is situated on the south shore of Lake George, which today is an oxbow lake cut from the Yazoo River. At the time of the site's occupation during the Late Woodland period, the lake remained a navigable channel that was connected to other waterways and served as a means of communication and transportation throughout the interior basin. This location was ideal for prehistoric settlement; the Yazoo basin contained fertile soils and diverse ecosystems that provided an abundance of plant and animal species for populations to exploit. That many took advantage of this rich resource is evident in the nearly 1,000 years of continuous occupation which archaeological excavations have uncovered at the site (Williams and Brain 1983). Additionally, due to Lake George's location in the "midpoint" of the lower Mississippi Valley, Williams and Brain (1983:393) suggest that "what happened at either end of the valley was usually reflected in the basin, at least to some degree." Thus deciphering the occupational sequence at Lake George contributed to understanding the cultural history of not only the site but also the Yazoo basin and the lower Mississippi Valley as a whole.

Despite the importance of the site to archaeology, little has been published from a bioarchaeological perspective about the many individuals buried at Lake George. …