Human bioarchaeology in Luang Prabang, Laos PDR in regional perspective: the people from the Phou Phaa Khao Rockshelter and Tham An Mah
(University of Otago)
Joyce White (Insttitute for Southeast Asian Prehistory)
Korakot Boonlop (University of Leicester)
Helen Lewis (University College Dublin)
Paper short abstract:
This paper assesses macroscopic evidence for health from two Iron Age samples from Luang Prabang Province in the context of the newly developed model of conceptualising health change in late prehistoric Southeast Asia.
Paper long abstract:
Recent bioarchaeological work in Southeast Asia has been important for developing a new regionally specific model of health change with the intensification of agriculture. This model is one of a rapid change in social structure and health deterioration in the latter part of the Iron Age, following a period of relative stasis in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Recent excavations at Luang Prabang Province, Laos PDR, as part of the Middle Mekong Archaeological Project provide us with the unique opportunity to assess this model in this region. This paper presents the macroscopic health data of 14 individuals from Phou Phaa Khao Rockshelter and Tham An Mah sites dated to the Iron Age, and interprets the results in the context of health data from other Mainland Southeast Asian sites. There was a high prevalence of infant and child death, growth disruption in the form of linear enamel hypoplasia, and non-specific bone pathology, but little evidence for oral disease. These findings fit with the developing Southeast Asian model that the Iron Age is characterised by deterioration in health with social and environmental changes occurring, but with a general retention of oral health due to the relatively low cariogenicity of rice and retention of broad-spectrum subsistence base. These findings are explored in the context of environmental information on settlement density, social organisation and subsistence specific to the middle Mekong Basin.
Addressing regional and world-scale archaeological questions through human bioarchaeology in Southeast Asia