Health and society in Southeast Asia: the transition from the late Bronze Age to Iron Age

Cekalovic, Helen (2014) Health and society in Southeast Asia: the transition from the late Bronze Age to Iron Age. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Bioarchaeological studies incorporate components of bioanthropological and archaeological research. Alone each discipline presents valuable information, but when these disparate methods are used in combination to examine past societies, a holistic interpretation can result.

The purpose of this study is to develop a methodology that quantifies the overall health of individuals based on skeletal remains found in archaeological contexts. The Southeast Asian Health Index was inspired by the Western Hemisphere Health Index. The challenge in devising a health index for Southeast Asian skeletal remains from archaeological contexts is multifaceted. The index must be relevant at an individual level, easily reproduced by any user and include health attributes that are collected as standard from skeletal remains.

In this thesis, the Southeast Asian Health Index is developed and forms the basis of a series of bioarchaeological analyses. The index comprises the following attributes; age at death, dental health (alveolar bone health, caries and ante-mortem tooth loss), trauma, growth (enamel hypoplasia and long bone length), degenerative joint disease, childhood cranial and orbital lesions, and other pathological conditions. The structure of the health index enables comparison of individual health attributes as well as overall community health.

As a way to test this index, the transition period from the Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age in northeast Thailand was investigated using health and social indicators. The two sites examined were Noen U-Loke and Ban Non Wat. The health of individuals within each time period, Mid Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, and Mid Iron Age, were compared with societal indicators, seen in burial treatment.

Five hypotheses were tested in this study based on the results of the Southeast Asian Health Index and individual burial treatments. Two hypotheses are based solely on the Southeast Asian Health Index.

Firstly, it is hypothesised that the health of the people of Ban Non Wat and Noen U-Loke improved from the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age. It was found that overall health improved through time, but with complexity. This complexity was evident in the testing of the second hypothesis. In addition, patterns regarding individual health attributes could be identified. For example, this included an improvement in male dental health over time, whereas female dental health remained static.

The second hypothesis stated that health differentiation could be seen between archaeological sites in the same region. The context of the settlement influences the health of the village. In this study, the newly established village of Noen U-Loke, in the Early Iron Age, showed a distinct difference to the well established village of Ban Non Wat.

Based on relationships between the Southeast Asian Health Index and burial treatments, two further hypotheses were tested.

The third hypothesis asserts that there is a correlation between burial treatment and health. A number of correlations between health and burial treatment were identified. These suggest that females buried with ornaments had poorer health, as did males with animal bones. It is postulated that these burial goods may be medical aides or amulets for the afterlife.

The fourth hypothesis tests the assertion that a correlation between health and burial treatment reflects social identity. It was identified that when health data are used in combination with burial treatment data, social identity was more reasonably distinguished than by using burial goods alone. The combination of health data with burial treatment enabled additional context, which ultimately altered interpretations of social identity based solely on burial goods. In one case, the interpretation of occupation suggested by the burial goods was refuted by the health data.

The final and fifth hypothesis relates to burial treatment and tests if society became more stratified from Late Bronze Age to Iron Age. Based on the sample, no evidence of stratified society could be identified.

Overall, it was found that the Southeast Asian Health Index provides a sound method of identifying relative health for individuals, groups and populations through time. Used in combination with archaeological contextual information it can provide multidisciplinary interpretations. The use of burial treatment data, rather than estimations of wealth to identify social identity, is distinctively different to previous studies. This study provides a unique bioarchaeological methodology, combining health and social status, to produce additional interpretations.

Item ID: 41294
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: age at death; Ban Non Wat; bioanthropology; bioarchaeology; Bronze Age; burial customs; burial rituals; burial; dental health; forensic anthropology; forensic archaeology; health and social status; health and society; health indexes; health indicators; health status indexes; health status indicators; Iron Age; long bone length; Noen U-Loke; skeletal; social status; society; socio-cultural; Southeast Asia
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2015 03:57
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: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 50%
92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920413 Social Structure and Health @ 50%
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