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. The present study addresses this dearth, focusing on the questions of subsistence and nutritional adequacy. Multiple oral and nonspecific pathologies were examined in 50 individuals from Lake George (25 adults and 25 subadults). Also, stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes were evaluated in a smaller subsample of adults (η = 19). Inferences about diet and health are drawn based on isotope values generated in this study and by comparing the pathology profile from Lake George to that of other populations from the southern lower Mississippi Valley.
Subsistence and Nutritional Adequacy
Bioarchaeological techniques for studying prehistoric diet and nutrition include analyses of oral and other skeletal pathologies (Larsen 1997; Larsen et al. 1991, 2007; Rose et al. 1991) and the analysis of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (Ambrose and Norr 1993; DeNiro and Epstein 1978, 1981; Krueger and Sullivan 1984; Lee-Thorp et al. 1989; Tieszen and Fagre 1993). The use of oral pathologies for paleodietary research is based on numerous studies that have demonstrated a relationship between high carbohydrate diets and a decline in oral health (Larsen 1995; Larsen et al. 2007; Lukacs 1989; Reeves 2000). This decline, exemplified in increased rates of dental caries, periodontal disease, abscesses, and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL), has been used to infer prehistoric subsistence, particularly in differentiating between economies based on hunting and gathering or maize agriculture (Larsen 1995; Larsen et al. …