Natural Resources, School of


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Current Anthropology Volume 53, Number 4, August 2012, pp. 506-512 + supplements A-C; DOI: 10.1086/ 665923


Copyright (c) 2012 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research; published by University of Chicago Press. Used by permission.


The elevated prevalence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) in Native Americans of the Southwest has been explained by several authors in terms of a dietary change from preindustrial traditional foods to modern foods. Physiology adapted to traditional foods became deleterious during the process of modernization. Although several versions of this hypothesis exist, they all relate to the rise in modern NIDDM with change from prehistoric subsistence practices to modern dietary practices. This is especially true for the Southwestern desert tribes of Arizona and New Mexico. Coprolite analysts have been recovering the sort of data needed by diabetes researchers to explore the prehistoric dietary foundations for NIDDM. Diabetes researchers have missed these studies that are essential in understanding ancient diet. We are taking this opportunity to show how coprolite analysis of diet provides data relevant to understanding debates. Our case example comes from Antelope Cave, Mojave County, Arizona. There was a high reliance on fiber-rich plant foods with low glycemic indexes. However, these were not just famine foods as suggested by the original “thrifty gene” hypothesis. These were the foods eaten on a day-by-day basis during all seasons, in both feast and famine.

Includes Supplements A-C.