Scurvy in the Tropics: Evidence for increasing non-adult micronutrient deficiency with the transition to agriculture in northern Vietnam

Vlok, Melandri, Oxenham, Marc Fredrick, Domett, Kate, Trinh, Hiep Hoang, Minh, Tran Thi, Mai Huong, Nguyen Thi, Matsumura, Hirofumi, Truong Huu, Nghia, Nguyen, Lan Cuong, Willis, Anna, and Buckley, Hallie (2023) Scurvy in the Tropics: Evidence for increasing non-adult micronutrient deficiency with the transition to agriculture in northern Vietnam. American Journal of Biological Anthropology, 180 (4). pp. 715-732.

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Objective: Scurvy in non-adults was assessed at the Pre-Neolithic site of Con Co Ngua and the Neolithic site of Man Bac in northern Vietnam to investigate nutritional stress during the agricultural transition in Mainland Southeast Asia (MSEA).

Materials: One hundred and four human skeletons under the age of 20 years old were assessed.

Methods: Lesions were recorded macroscopically and radiographically. Differential diagnosis using prior established paleopathological diagnostic criteria for scurvy was conducted.

Results: There was no clear evidence for scurvy at Con Co Ngua and a high burden of scurvy was present at Man Bac (>79% diagnosed with probable scurvy). Scurvy levels were high across all non-adult ages at Man Bac indicating significant burden throughout childhood and adolescence.

Conclusions: No scurvy at Con Co Ngua is consistent with widely available food sources at the peak of the Holocene thermal maximum. High levels of scurvy at Man Bac corresponds with decreased dietary diversity, high pathogen load, and increased population stress with the transition to agriculture around the time of the 4.2 ka desertification event.

Significance: This is the first systematic population-level non-adult investigation of specific nutritional disease in MSEA and demonstrates an increase in nutritional stress during the Neolithic transition in northern Vietnam.

Limitations: Subperiosteal new bone deposits can be due to normal growth in infants and young children, therefore, identification of scurvy in children under the age of 4 years needs to be considered critically.

Suggestions for Further Research: Further work in diagnosing specific nutritional disease in other non-adult cohorts throughout MSEA is required.

Item ID: 77432
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2692-7691
Copyright Information: © 2023 The Authors. American Journal of Biological Anthropology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), National Geographic (NG), Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), University of Otago (UO)
Projects and Grants: ARC grant DP110101097, ARC grant FT120100299, NG Early Career Grant (EC-54332R-18), RSNZ Skinner Fund Grant, UO Doctoral Scholarship
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2023 03:23
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4301 Archaeology > 430102 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas @ 50%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440103 Biological (physical) anthropology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130702 Understanding Asia’s past @ 100%
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