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Health and Disease in Prehistoric Tonga

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Item Summary

Title: Health and Disease in Prehistoric Tonga
Authors: Kadohiro Lauer, Karen
Keywords: Anthropology
Tongan health
Pacific Islands
Issue Date: May 2015
Publisher: [Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2015]
Abstract: This thesis places prehistoric Tongan health in a larger Pacific context. Previous studies of prehistoric skeletons in Pacific Island ecosystems have found the health of these groups to be generally good. This good health is assumed to be due to the shared factors of climate, environment, diet, and the absence of introduced infectious diseases. This study uses a sample of skeletons from Tonga to determine if the generally good health extends to this corner of the Pacific. Indicators of stress on skeletons from site To-At-36, from the Ha`ateiho region, Tongatapu, Tonga are used to examine health and disease in prehistoric Tonga. This skeletal series includes 31 individuals (20 males and 11 females) from the Tongan Formative Period (400 AD – 1200 AD). Indicators of stress examined include: stature, enamel hypoplasia, cribra orbitalia, periosteal infections, trauma, degenerative joint disease (DJD), and dental pathologies (i.e. antemortem tooth loss (AMTL), dental caries, alveolar defects, dental calculus, alveolar resorption, and dental attrition). This research examined sex differences in health within To-At-36 and between To-At-36 and other Tongan skeletons. In addition, an assessment of health was made by comparing the Tongan data with data from other Pacific Islands. It was expected, based on previously collected data from the Pacific Islands, that the Tongan skeletons would document a similar level of good health.
The difference between To-At-36 males and females was not as great as expected. Males generally had higher frequencies of stress indicators, however only four (having advanced osteoarthritis of articular surface on thoracic vertebrae, osteophytosis of centra of thoracic vertebrae, total osteophytosis of the vertebral centra, and dental attrition) were statistically significant. Females exhibited significantly higher frequencies of AMTL. Males were statistically taller than females, however both were classified as being tall. The differences between sexes may be attributed to sexual division of labor, differential access to different types of food, and use of teeth as tools. Overall, the males and females of To-At-36 exhibited a similar status of good health.
There were unexpected differences between the skeletons from To-At-36 and the combined skeletons from To-At-1 and To-At-2. While the female statures of the two Tongan groups were similar, the male statures of To-At-1 and To-At-2 were significantly taller than To-At-36. The frequency of LEH in To-At-36 was also significantly higher than To-At-1 and To-At-2. These suggest that individuals from To-At-36 may have suffered more developmental stress. While not significant, To-At-1 and To-At-2 displayed higher frequencies of cribra orbitalia, evidence of treponemal disease, limb bone fractures, and DJD in appendicular joints. The dentition from To-At-1 and To-At-2 appear to be healthier than To-At-36. The teeth from To-At-36 revealed higher frequencies of all six dental stress indicators, of which the frequencies of AMTL and dental attrition were significantly higher.
Overall, the skeletal remains in this study had a low incidence of linear enamel hypoplasia, but it occurred more frequently in the Mariana Islands and less often in the Hawaiian Islands than in Tonga, indicating a variation in childhood stress in all three island groups. While Tonga had the highest frequency of cribra orbitalia, the difference was not statistically significant. Similar to the Mariana Islands, the Tongan skeletons exhibited evidence of the treponemal disease, yaws. Tonga had a higher frequency of individuals with bone pathologies suggestive of yaws than the Mariana Islands.
Prehistoric Tongans suffered from significantly higher frequencies of limb bone fractures than the other Pacific Island skeletal remains. All fractures occurred in the upper limb bones, possibly indicating injuries sustained while participating in recreational contact sports. The overall incidence of advanced osteoarthritis in prehistoric Tongans was similar to Hawaiians, but lower than the Mariana Islanders. The frequency of advanced osteoarthritis and osteophytosis in the vertebrae are significantly lower in the Tongans than the Hawaiians and Chamorros, indicating Tongans experienced less physical stress than the other Pacific Island groups.
Dental health in prehistoric Tonga was good. With the exception of dental calculus, the Tongans had significantly lower incidences of dental pathologies compared to Hawaiians, and significantly lower rates of alveolar defects, alveolar resorption, and attrition than Chamorros. Tongans had a significantly higher frequency of dental calculus than both Hawaiians and Chamorros. The variation in dental health indicator frequencies may reflect differences in diet and dental hygiene.
Description: M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections:M.A. - Anthropology

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