Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
In this dissertation, I ask how European colonialism affected the nutrition of Siouan communities from Piedmont North Carolina and Virginia, AD 800 – 1710. I combine dietary stable isotope analysis of dental calculus, paleopathological analysis of immunostimulation and nutrition, and epidemiological analysis using datasets that contain serum nutrition and immune system measurements to reconstruct the nutrition of past Siouan people. My results show that the stable isotope values of paired dental calculus and bone biofractions are correlated, which identifies calculus as an alternative for bone in dietary reconstruction. Calculus stable isotope values from past Siouan people suggest variation among individuals, particularly in their degree of maize consumption. River drainage affiliation and temporal period affiliation both capture some of the variation in dietary composition among the individuals.Siouan people who consumed more maize or had periodontal disease were more likely to have sphenoid lesions, which are likely associated with chewing muscle hemorrhage stemming from vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C deficiency increases the risk of periodontal disease, while the chronic immunostimulation of periodontal disease is also expensive for vitamin C. Periodontal disease represents a cyclical relationship between nutrition and infection with ramifications for whole-body health. Vitamin C deficiency was more prevalent among Siouan communities during the late Colonial period (AD 1670 – 1710) than earlier periods, but neither maize nor skeletal proxies for immunostimulation were consistently higher in the late Colonial period compared to earlier periods.I attribute the Colonial period increase in vitamin C deficiency to infectious diseases not observable in the osteological record, Siouan groups altering their subsistence practices in ways that reduced the vitamin C content of food, and/or a population-level shift in peoples’ immune system responses and regulation. I conclude that the nutritional ecology of Siouan people did change during the Colonial period, with diet, infectious disease epidemiology, and psychosocial stress likely all playing a role. These findings also have relevance for current concerns in global health: access to adequate and culturally-appropriate nutrition is important to mitigate health disparities during emerging infectious disease spread and dynamic sociopolitical landscapes.