Integrative Anthropology: A Focus on Iron-Deficiency Anemia



Susan Kent was an archaeologist with a mission; at a time when increasing specialization was “in vogue,” she was a generalist who had a holistic, synthetic view of anthropology. As can be seen by the breadth and scope of this volume she had many and varied interests including an interest in my own field of biological anthropology. We connected because we discovered that at around the same time we both independently developed similar ideas on a paleopathology of the skull known as porotic hyperostosis. The prevailing view of the time was that porotic hyperostosis was due to iron-deficiency anemia primarily caused by an iron-poor diet. We both questioned this—we felt that, for a number of reasons, it did not make sense that an iron-poor diet would be the main factor in the development of iron-deficiency anemia in ancient peoples. We strongly believed in examining issues from multidisciplinary, biocultural, and temporal perspectives, so both independently and together we explored iron and iron-deficiency anemia within prehistoric, historic, modern, medical, anthropological, biological, political, and cultural contexts. This chapter is a summary of our collaborative work and my own work on iron-deficiency anemia over a period of 20 years.