Infant and childhood growth and developmental stress during the intensification of agriculture at Ban Non Wat, Thailand.
The adoption and intensification of agriculture resulted in several alterations within the physical and socio-cultural environment that had long-term consequences on human health in many parts of the world. This thesis aimed to evaluate the biological consequences of the adoption and intensification of agriculture in the region of Mainland Southeast Asia by examining the growth of infants and children (N=216) at the prehistoric site of Ban Non Wat in northeast Thailand. The sample was chosen as it spans from the Neolithic to the Iron Age (1750 BC−AD 430), which captures the period during which agriculture developed and intensified in the region. Subsistence transition is generally associated with increased physiological stress and disease among prehistoric agricultural communities in the Western world. In contrast, previous Southeast Asian bioarchaeological research has indicated that the biological adaptation to agriculture is complex and does not show a temporal trend of an increase or decrease in stress with the intensification of agriculture. By examining infant and childhood growth and developmental stress, this study aimed to evaluate the impact of agricultural intensification on the prehistoric population represented at Ban Non Wat. The first analytical component of the study included testing skeletal growth outcomes in infants and children from Ban Non Wat. Skeletal growth profiles of infants and children (n=95) were compared from the Neolithic to the Iron Age at the site to assess if there was any temporal variability in linear and appositional growth that may reflect changes in stress in response to agricultural intensification over time. Additionally, the study explored whether or not there were temporal changes in the dental crown size of infants and children (n=165) as nutritional stress may disturb developmental processes in early life. The prevalence of fluctuating dental asymmetry in the sample was also included in the study to further investigate temporal changes in infant and childhood stress at the site. The overall findings of the current study revealed no consistent evidence for a temporal increase in infant and childhood stress associated with agricultural intensification. However, given the fact that a considerable number of infants and children did not reach adulthood, suggests some evidence for stress in the community throughout the period of occupation at the site. This may be related to the increased exposure to pathogen loads in the environment with the proximity to water resources. The general stasis in physiological stress over time suggests that there is little evidence for health deterioration in response to the adoption and intensification of agriculture in prehistoric Thailand. These findings are consistent with previous bioarchaeological research on prehistoric Southeast Asian skeletal populations. The continued reliance on a broad-spectrum based diet in addition to rice agriculture may have buffered the population from the biological stress that is generally found in the prehistoric populations from other parts of the world in response to agricultural intensification.
Advisor: Halcrow, Siân E; Buckley, Hallie R
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anatomy
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Bioarchaeology; biocultural stress; Prehistoric Thailand; Southeast Asia; subadult growth
Research Type: Thesis