Infectious diseases on the human populations that inhabited southern Patagonia

Cynthia Daniela Pandiani, Ana Luísa Santos and Jorge Alejandro Suby are the authors of the paper Procesos infecciosos en cazadores-recolectores de Patagonia Austral: Evidencias en restos óseos del Holoceno medio y tardío (ca. 5200-100 años aP), published today in the journal Latin American Antiquity.

Infectious diseases have been proposed as one of the main causes of death in past societies. However, there are few analyses and interpretations of nonspecific lesions related to infections in skeletal assemblages of foragers from southern South America. The aim of this paper is to explore the possible impact of infectious diseases on the human populations that inhabited southern Patagonia, based on the recording and interpretation of bone lesions in skeletons from the Middle and Late Holocene (approximately 5200-100 years BP). Fifty-four individuals recovered from 50 archaeological sites in that region were macroscopically analyzed. The presence, location, laterality, type of new bone formation (woven, lamellar, mixed) and distribution of the bone lesions were recorded. Eight skeletons were affected by lesions diagnostic of and highly consistent with bone infections, without differences between sexes and among ages. Six of them (75%) were recovered in archaeological sites from southern Tierra del Fuego. Four skeletons show lesions compatible with osteomyelitis, and two with tuberculosis (one non-adult and one adult). The latter represents a relevant finding in discussing the presence of tuberculosis in past populations and its evolution in America. Also, the results presented suggest that the evidence of infectious processes may be recurrent in specific analyses on skeletal samples from hunter-gatherers.

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Infectious diseases on the human populations that inhabited southern Patagonia

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