Exploring Pre-Columbian Health and Lifeways in the Greater Coclé Region, Panama Public Deposited

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  • Berger, Stephanie
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • This research combines an investigative life history approach with bioarchaeological methods to assess the developmental origins of health and disease in the Greater Coclé region of Panama during the Early and Middle Ceramic Periods (2480 BCE- 1200 CE). This work incorporates interdisciplinary frameworks and focuses on the role of pro-inflammatory immune activity as a physiological pathway linking early life exposures to later life mortality risk. Since developmental stress has consistently been associated with later life morbidity and mortality in modern populations, a deep time perspective is needed to better understand the nature of these relationships and underlying physiological pathways throughout human history. While bioarchaeological studies have increasingly incorporated evolutionary developmental theory over the last two decades, these studies encompass a limited range of geographical and historical contexts. This study provides new theoretical and methodological contributions to the study of developmental origins of health and disease in past populations in the understudied but rich archaeological context of the Greater Coclé region. First, I explored biocultural kinship systems and postmarital residence practices at the Greater Coclé sites Cerro Mangote and Sitio Sierra. The dental evidence indicates a mix of cultural continuity and innovation in the region. While both biological and social relationships are represented in complex mortuary practices at Cerro Mangote, the shift towards single primary interments at Sitio Sierra appears to predominantly reflect social relationships. I also identified considerable gene flow between the communities, and these results provide insight into potential Greater Coclé interactions, such as the existence of a special regional cemetery site at Cerro Mangote. Second, I identified three different developmental phenotype classes from an analysis of standard osteological markers of growth disruption and developmental stress. Low to moderate developmental stress was common in the Greater Coclé region during the Early and Middle Ceramic Periods, and I found that phenotypes characterized by increasing developmental stress were associated with greater mortality risk and earlier age at death. These results support the developmental origins of health and disease framework, although Greater Coclé cultural buffering systems may be dampening the adverse effects of developmental stress. Last, I found that developmental stress does interact with pro-inflammatory immune activity to increase mortality risk. I identified four immune phenotypes representing a range of pro-inflammatory immune activity, and among older age cohorts, individuals who experienced both development stress and later life chronic, systemic inflammation died at earlier ages than individuals who did not experience developmental stress. Although greater pro-inflammatory immune activity was paradoxically associated with older age death, these results fit with the inflammaging and allostatic load frameworks and provide novel bioarchaeological evidence of senescence-related frailty. Together, these findings contribute novel insights into Pre-Columbian health and lifeways in the Greater Coclé region and reinforce the need to use biocultural approaches that contextualize archaeological interpretations with skeletal remains.
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  • In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted
  • Hutchinson, Dale L
  • Smith-Guzmán, Nicole
  • Thompson, Amanda L
  • Sorensen, Mark
  • Leslie, Paul W
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2021

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