Bioarchaeology of Spanish Florida: The Impact of Colonialism

By Harrod, Ryan | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Bioarchaeology of Spanish Florida: The Impact of Colonialism


Harrod, Ryan, Southeastern Archaeology


Bioarchaeology of Spanish Florida: The Impact of Colonialism. CLARK SPENCER LARSEN (ed.). University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2001. 324 pp., $55 (cloth), ISBN 0-8130-2088-3.

Reviewed by Ryan Harrod

The field of bioarchaeology is a relatively new subdiscipline of physical anthropology that emerged in the 1970s as researchers pushed beyond simple osteological analysis and began using skeletal remains to address questions about lifestyle, diet, and the distribution of pathologies among past human societies. Bioarchaeology of Spanish Florida is a unique text because it approaches these new questions in relation to Native American groups living in a region called La Florida, which encompasses modern-day Florida and Georgia prior to, during, and foUowing contact with Spanish missionaries.

The 10 chapters of Bioarchaeology of Spanish Florida, while presented seemingly separate in the text, can be organized according to the question of lifestyle each researcher is trying to address, whether that be about diet, quality of life, genetic relation, or exposure to pathology.

The first two chapters introduce the research topic and methodological approaches utilized in the field of bioarchaeology. Chapter 1 describes the overall culture and history of the region, as well as the events that took place, and the reaction of the people involved, as Native American groups were introduced to the Spanish mission system. Chapter 2 provides a broad overview of the discipUne of bioarchaeology and its application in understanding La Florida.

Having established a solid foundation for the authence, the next two chapters provide an in-depth analysis of how Native American diet among the various groups was affected to various degrees with the estabUshment of Spanish missions. To understand the type and quality of diet, the researcher evaluated the ratio of stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon within the bones as well as analyzed microscopic evidence of wear on the teeth.

Only a single chapter is dedicated to the realm of more traditional osteology, with chapter 5 investigating the metric analysis of the size and shape of the skeletal remains to determine activity and lifestyle of the various groups. However, this chapter differs from earlier studies in that Ruff and Larsen utilize innovative techniques to improve on the accuracy of the analysis. They move beyond measuring the outside dimensions of the bones such as length, width, and circumference to trying to understand both the external and internal structure.

The following two chapters are a synthesis of the previous chapters as the authors evaluate diseases and characteristics that are the result of an unknown etiology that could be the result of fluctuations in diet or lifestyle. In chapter 7 Hutchinson and Larsen evaluate enamel hypoplasia, while in chapter 8 the authors are charting the occurrence of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia. …

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