Natural Resources, School of

 

Date of this Version

11-2008

Abstract

The contact of inland and coastal prehistoric groups in Brazil is believed to have been restricted to regions with no geographical barrier, as is the case in the Ribeira de Iguape valley. The inland osteological collection from the riverine shellmound Moraes (5800–4500 BP) represents a unique opportunity to test this assumption for this region. Despite cultural similarities between riverine and coastal shellmounds, important ecological and site distribution differences are expected to impact on lifestyle. The purpose of this study is thus to document and interpret health and lifestyle indicators in Moraes in comparison to coastal shellmound groups. Specifically we test if the rare evidence of fish and mollusc remains in the riverine shellmound led to (a) higher caries rates and (b) lower auditory exostosis frequency and (c) if the small size of the riverine shellmound translates into reduced demographic density and thus rarity of communicable infectious diseases. Of the three hypotheses, (a) was confirmed, (b) was rejected and (c) was partly rejected. Bioanthropological similarities between Moraes and coastal shellmounds include auditory exostoses with equally high frequencies; significantly more frequent osteoarthritis in upper than in lower limbs; cranial and dental morphological affinities and low frequencies of violent trauma. However, there are also important differences: Moraes subsisted on a much broader protein diet and consumed more cariogenic food, but showed a stature even shorter than coastal groups. Thus, despite the contact also suggested by treponematoses in both site types, there was enough time for the people at the riverine site to adapt to local conditions.