Hunter-gatherers of the Central Gulf Coastal Plain and the Lower Pecos region of Texas: Interpreting patterns of health and variability

Christine Alvarez Jones
Anthropology, Texas A&M University
June, 2016


This dissertation explores patterns of health and variability among hunter-gatherers during the Holocene in two distinct ecological settings: the semi-arid Lower Pecos and Central Western Gulf Coastal Plain regions of Texas. Skeletal indicators of long-term and short-term stress were examined for 279 individuals representing 20 cemetery sites. To test the assumption that stress indicators, and therefore interpretations of health, for hunter-gatherers are not homogenous but extremely variable, patterning in age, sex, porotic hyperostosis, cribra orbitalia, linear enamel hypoplasia and periostitis are analyzed. There are no significant differences in the frequencies of cribra orbitalia for adults by region; a significantly greater proportion of subadults in the Coastal Plain region were affected with anemia in infancy (40%) than adults (13.8%). If severity is not taken into account, or if only the mildest lesions are considered, a larger proportion of Lower Pecos adults show porotic hyperostosis, a sign of anemia in childhood, than Coastal Plain adults. Overall there are no statistically significant differences by sex for any of the skeletal indicators analyzed with the exception of cribra orbitalia, where males and females for Lower Pecos region are significantly different with significantly fewer males showing cribra orbitalia (0%) than females (33.3%). In analyzing linear enamel hypoplasias, only the mandibular second incisors of Lower Pecos adults were found to have a significantly greater prevalence of hypoplasia than those of the Coastal Plain. A greater proportion of adults from the Coastal Plain show periosteal lesions in the tibia and fibula (30-40%) than those from the Lower Pecos. The results of this bioarchaeological case study indicate that more complex interpretations of health patterning which include important factors such as the osteological paradox, relevant ecological variables, and a framework which stresses the age of occurrence of skeletal indicators within hunter-gatherer groups are vital and relevant to archaeological and bioarchaeological research as a whole. Increasing sample sizes in the future, using sites that are more temporally discrete, and expanding sites used from other ecological regions in addition to drawing on data from stable isotopes may help further this research.