Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version

May 1988


Citation: Reinhard, KJ (1988) Diet, Parasitism, and Anemia in the Prehistoric Southwest. Ph.D. Dissertation, Texas A&M University, College Station.


The primary goal of this study is the demonstration of the utility of parasitological data retrieved from coprolites in documenting prehistoric infectious disease. The study focuses on levels of infection of two subsistence types, hunting-gathering and agriculture. Analysis of differences between the two types, and of variation of parasitism between sites of the same type, are presented. It is demonstrated that parasitism was more common among hunter-gatherers than agricultural populations. Parasitism is shown to have been mediated by ecology and human behavior among agricultural sites.

A second goal is the integration of parasitological data with evidence of pathology derived from skeletal data relating to anemia and suggest that parasitological analysis can complement osteological analysis when approaching questions of prehistoric health. The study demonstrates the value of parasitological data in the general rubric of bioarchaeology. Dietary data are evaluated with respect to the maize dependency hypothesis of iron deficiency anemia. A long tradition of dietary specialization among Archaic hunter-gatherers is documented which led to dietary specialization on cultivated crops in agricultural times. However, dependence on agricultural foods in highly variable and can not account for prehistoric anemia alone.

The various analyses demonstrate the power of incorporating dietary, parasitological and osseous pathology data in assessing health of prehistoric peoples. Specific contributions of the study are the elucidation of parasitism among dilute hunter-gatherer bands and concentrated populations of agricultural people. It is shown that zoonotic infection was common among both groups, but that the advent of agriculture resulted in an increase of human specific parasitism.

The increase in human specific parasitism resulted from poor hygienic conditions, sedentism and population aggregation. However, it is clear that local ecology, excreta disposal systems, and foraging behavior at certain agricultural sites reduced the level of parasitism. Thus, both ecology and social adaptation are documented as lowering the impact of parasitism.