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Title: Exploring diachronic changes in activity, diet and health on the prehistoric Baltic coast
Author: Rivera, Michael B. C.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 9470
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Beginning around 10,000 years ago, humans gradually shifted away from hunting-and-gathering lifestyles to more sedentary and agricultural lifestyles, which determined a change in their food-sourcing methods. Although the biological effects to changing subsistence patterns are generally well-understood, more recent studies show regional variation in agriculture's impact on human biology. Archaeology has shown that ancient Baltic populations underwent their own unique transition to agriculture because of their close proximity not only to forests and fertile soils, but also to rivers, lakes and coastlines. This thesis studies the biological implications of coastal living on transitioning communities by examining skeletal variation, dental disease, and indicators of nutritional and general health in Estonian and Latvian individuals dating to the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age (9th millennium BC to 1st millennium AD). Biomechanical activity of the upper and lower limbs is shown to be highest in the Baltic Neolithic and Bronze Age relative to earlier hunter-fisher-gatherers and later farming and metallurgic populations. Furthermore, auditory exostoses were identified, perhaps indicative of habitual immersion in cold water for sourcing aquatic foods. These patterns may reflect an increase in manual labor, as well as new suites of food acquisition, with respect to earlier time periods. More recent individuals also exhibit reduced craniofacial and masticatory dimensions, which suggests a decrease in the toughness of food attributable to dietary changes or improvements in food processing. Rates of dental pathologies and indicators of general/nutritional stress show that an unusually high-protein, low-sugar, varied and nutritious diet was consumed by prehistoric Balts in both pre-agricultural and agricultural groups. These various forms of evidence highlight the significance of studying regional variation in agricultural transitions. The reliance on marine and freshwater resources provided Baltic inhabitants with unique types and qualities of food which other transitioning populations elsewhere did not access. This bioarchaeological investigation of the coastal foraging-to-farming transition makes an important contribution to broader scholarship focusing on cultural, technological and biological change at the onset of agriculture.
Supervisor: Stock, Jay T. Sponsor: Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research (GIAR) program ; University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: bioarchaeology ; osteology ; coastal archaeology ; skeletal biology ; palaeopathology ; Baltic archaeology ; agricultural transitions