The Tutu Archaeological Village Site: A Case Study in Human Adaptation

By Elizabeth Righter | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven


Biological adaptation in the prehistoric Caribbean: Osteology and bioarchaeology of the Tutu site

Mary K. Sandford, Georgieann Bogdan and Grace E. Kissling


INTRODUCTION

From the field to the laboratory, osteological analyses of the Tutu material have involved a massive multidisciplinary effort. Results of some of the specialized studies sparked from this invaluable material are included within this volume (see Chapters 8, 9 and 10). Similar reports are expected to continue for years to come. The current chapter presents an overview of the osteological analyses of the human skeletons from the Tutu site. A discussion of theoretical and methodological approaches to paleopathology is followed by a brief review of previous osteological studies of Caribbean samples. Field and laboratory methods employed in investigating the Tutu skeletons are next described. Results of the investigation are summarized and interpreted, focusing first on the composition of the sample with respect to demographic, spatial and temporal variables. A discussion of burial practices, health and lifeways is then presented in the contexts of the Tutu site and the prehistoric Caribbean.


PALEOPATHOLOGY: HISTORY, THEORY AND METHOD

The potential of skeletal material to mirror the effects of past diseases or nutritional disorders was recognized many years ago (see reviews in Buikstra & Cook, 1980; Ubelaker, 1982; Sandford, 1993a: 15-17). Ubelaker (1982) traces the beginnings of the field of paleopathology to 1774 with the published account of a possible neoplasm in a fossilized cave bear. And, for the next century, sporadic case studies involving extinct fauna dominated paleopathology. Prior to the 1930s, and for a number of years thereafter, virtually all studies of paleopathology applied a strict clinical approach to skeletal material. Thus, paleopathology developed historically out of a clinical model which placed emphasis on the detailed, painstaking description and differential diagnosis of individual cases (see discussions in Buikstra & Cook, 1980; Ubelaker, 1982; Sandford, Bogdan & Kissling, 1997). Although some scholars were interested in tracing the history of specific diseases, such as syphilis (Whitney, 1883), few researchers attempted to interpret diseases in comparative contexts or in the light of cultural and/or environmental variables.

Since its inception, paleopathology has undergone monumental changes. Among these, several crucial turning points in the history of paleopathology help frame the broader context of the present

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