June 03, 2010

Changes in disease/trauma during the Neolithic transition in the Levant

From the paper:
Prevalence of disease as reflected in the postcranial bones is similar in the Neolithic and Natufian populations (11.2% vs. 10%, respectively). There is however, a higher prevalence of inflammatory disease in the Neolithic population compared to Natufians: 4.39% (9/205) vs. 1% (2/200), respectively (Fig. 2; one-tailed Fisher’s exact test, df 5 1, P 5 0.033). The prevalence of trauma in the Natufian and Neolithic population is of similar magnitude: 3.5% vs. 3.0% (see Fig. 2). However, when only trauma to the skull is considered there is a significant difference in the prevalence between Natufians and Neolithic: 16.7% vs. 2.9% (9 out of 54 vs. 1 out of 34, respectively) (Fisher’s exact test, df 5 1, P 5 0.045). Among subadults, trauma to the skull was noticed in 11.1% of the Natufian subadults and in none of the Neolithic subadults (1 out of 9; Table 4). Among Natufians, lower limb bones are more prone to trauma than upper limb bones (1.3% vs. 0.2%; Table 3); a pattern which is not observed in the case of the Neolithic. However, statistical validity could not be assessed as prevalence rates were tested as bones within a given skeleton and not according to individuals.

No significant differences were found in the prevalence of arthritis in the postcranial bone (3.0% for the Natufians and 2.5% for the Neolithic, Fig. 2).

American Journal of Physical Anthropology doi:10.1002/ajpa.21301

Paleopathology and the origin of agriculture in the Levant

Vered Eshed et al.


This study addresses changes in health which were consequential to the Neolithic transition in the southern Levant, judged on the basis of the study of specific and nonspecific stress indicators, trauma, and degenerative joint disease in 200 Natufian (hunter-gatherer) skeletons (10,500-8300 BC) and 205 Neolithic (agricultural) skeletons (8300-5500 BC) from the southern Levant. The comparison of the health profiles of pre-Neolithic (Natufian) and Neolithic populations reveals a higher prevalence of lesions indicative of infectious diseases among the Neolithic population, and an overall reduction in the prevalence of skull trauma among males. No change over time was observed in the prevalence of degenerative joint disease. These results indicate that in the southern Levant the Neolithic transition did not simply lead to an overall deterioration in health but rather resulted in a complex health profile which was shaped by 1) an increase exposure to disease agents, 2) changes in diet, 3) population aggregation in larger and denser settlements, 4) changes in activity patterns and the division of labor, and possibly 5) a higher resistant immunological system and response capacity to environmental aggressions (mainly infections).


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