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Keywords:

  • hunter-gatherers;
  • central-eastern Patagonia;
  • holocene;
  • bioarchaeology;
  • paleodiet;
  • nutritional status and health

Abstract

Archaeological research in central-northern Patagonia (Atlantic coast and lower the valley of Chubut river) showed that this area was used since at least the Middle Holocene. Stable isotope analyses (13C and 15N) of human bone samples indicate that hunter-gatherers living in that area had a terrestrial-marine diet including guanaco meat, land plants, mollusks and pinnipeds. Despite this general trend, intersite variability and changes through time were noted, especially after the late Holocene. These results have been reinforced by archaeofaunal, technological and bioarchaeological records. In this paper, three hypotheses are examined: (a) the diet of these populations was complete and rich enough to ensure good health status and avoid nutritional deficiencies; (b) carbohydrate consumption increased progressively after 1000 BP, when pottery technology was adopted and (c) this kind of mixed diet would have been qualitatively more nutritious than that of other populations of the region, which would have resulted in better nutritional and healthy conditions. These three hypotheses are compared with dental results obtained from 563 permanent teeth from 45 individuals (34 adults and 11 juveniles from both sexes), rescued from burial sites. Indicators of oral health were assessed through the observation of caries, abscesses, wear, pulpar cavity exposure and ante mortem loss. Features of nutritional status such as enamel hypoplasia, porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia were also examined. Given the availability of direct radiocarbon dating for most of the sample, three temporal series were determined: ‘Before 1000 BP’, ‘1000–5000 BP’ and ‘Post-contact’. No evidence of alimentary stress or iron deficiency was found in individuals from the three series, which accounts for healthy and good nutritional life conditions. After 1000 BP, the results show a progressive increase in the caries percentage and a decrease in abscesses, dental wear and ante mortem losses frequency. This is possibly related to more consumption of processed foods in the last 1000 years. These results were compared with similar studies based on samples from different environments and latitudes of Patagonia. Evidence suggests that mixed diets (marine-terrestrial) would have been more appropriate and nutritionally complete than exclusively marine or terrestrial diets. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.