Health, diet and migration prior to the establishment of the pre-Angkorian civilisation of Southeast Asia

Newton, Jennifer Sarah (2014) Health, diet and migration prior to the establishment of the pre-Angkorian civilisation of Southeast Asia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This project examines the health, diet and migratory patterns of prehistoric people of Southeast Asia prior to the establishment of the Angkorian Empire in the early 9ᵗʰ century during the state development known as Funan and Chenla. Until now, evidence suggests Southeast Asia did not follow the trend towards declining health experienced by the rest of the world during the rise of complex civilizations. The research sample included human skeletal remains from three prehistoric Southeast Asian sites. The remains selected from Ban Non Wat in northeastern Thailand spans the Neolithic to early Iron Age (~2500 – 500 BC) and includes new samples as well as previously published work. Also included is new data from two late Iron Age sites in northwestern Cambodia, Phum Snay (~500 BC – 500AD), and Phum Sophy (~AD 100 – 600). Previously published bioarchaeological work from other prehistoric sites encompassing the Neolithic to late Iron Age is used to identify general trends for Southeast Asia. This project hypothesized that the Neolithic to early Iron Age's stable environment and minimal sociocultural changes would not have negatively impacted the health of communities through these time periods. In contrast, the environmental and social changes throughout the Iron Age would impact diet and migratory patterns, causing a general decline of health into the late Iron Age.

Health was examined at all sites through the analyses of childhood stressors including cribra orbitalia, linear enamel hypoplasia, and stature, along with adult dental health. Through carbon isotope (δ¹³C) analysis of the dental enamel this study was able to identify childhood diet at Ban Non Wat. Unfortunately, isotope analyses were not available for Phum Snay and Phum Sophy, therefore only dental health was used to identify aspects of diet at these sites. Migration was studied using strontium isotopes from dental enamel for Ban Non Wat. Phum Snay and Phum Sophy migratory patterns were determined from biological markers, such as dental modification. Through the examination of these three lines of evidence, the data for each site was examined independently to explain health, diet and migration, then combined with previously published work to identify general trends through Southeast Asian prehistory.

The evidence from the examination of health suggests the people of Ban Non Wat were generally healthy. The results across Southeast Asia demonstrate improvement of health into the early Iron Age, supporting previously published work. However, when compared to the broader context of the Iron Age in prehistoric Southeast Asia, both Phum Snay and Phum Sophy suggest a trend of declining dental health during the late Iron Age. In particular, it appears female health may have been more negatively impacted throughout the Iron Age, evident from increased stress and poorer dental health.

Analyses of δ¹³C values at Ban Non Wat indicate a gradual change of diet composition during the Neolithic to early Iron Age with minor variation in the middle of the Bronze Age. This suggests a change to a diet comprised mainly of C₃ foods, with minimal impact from C₄. Other nearby sites in Thailand also display δ¹³C values indicative of a mainly C₃ diet, but were significantly different to Ban Non Wat based on overall contribution of C₃/C₄. These differences are suggestive of groups in this region living as independent units into the early Iron Age. Phum Snay and Phum Sophy dental pathology profiles suggest a diet with a greater reliance on agricultural foods, following a trend from other Iron Age sites within Southeast Asia.

Migratory indicators through the use of of strontium isotopes at Ban Non Wat suggest migration from outside of the Mun River catchment sharply declined or ceased in the late Bronze Age, but may have continued into the Iron Age through short distance routes. Social and biological patterns from Phum Snay and Phum Sophy suggest extensive movement and/or trade with many groups near and far during the late Iron Age.

This study finds that the stability of the environment and smaller population sizes allowed the inhabitants of prehistoric Southeast Asian communities to utilize local resources and live generally well into the Iron Age with improving health. However, throughout the Iron Age a decline of health, in particular for females, corresponded with changes to diet, increased fertility and settlement sizes, which may have been at least partially caused by the environmental changes. Increased settlement size and extensive exchange routes during the late Iron Age may have linked emerging new diseases and increased health problems. This research suggests Southeast Asia does follow a similar trend of declining health as a result of diet changes, migratory patterns and environmental changes as other complex societies around the world have shown, but these changes occurred at a much later time period in Southeast Asia - in the late Iron Age.

Item ID: 34721
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Ban Non Wat; Cambodia; dental health; diet; health; Iron Age; migration; paleopathology; pre-Angkorian; South East Asia; Southeast Asia
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 4: Newton, J.S., Domett, K.M., O'Reilly, D.J.W., and Shewan, L. (2013) Dental health in Iron Age Cambodia: temporal variations with rice agriculture. International Journal of Paleopathology, 3 (1). pp. 1-10.

Chapter 6: Domett, K.M., Newton, J., O'Reilly, D.J.W., Tayles, N., Shewan, L., and Beavan, N. (2013) Cultural modification of the dentition in prehistoric Cambodia. International Journal of Osteoarcheology, 23 (3). pp. 274-286.

Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2014 22:57
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160102 Biological (Physical) Anthropology @ 50%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210103 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950502 Understanding Asias Past @ 50%
92 HEALTH > 9299 Other Health > 929999 Health not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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