Nutrition and politics in prehistory

Marie E. Danforth, University of Southern Mississippi


The interaction of nutritional status with political structure in prehistoric New World societies is examined through bioarchaeological analysis. Overall, a general correlation is seen between political complexity and patterns of morbidity among various subsegments of the population. This relationship is strongest among egalitarian societies, in which few differences exist, and state-level societies, in which differences are readily apparent and appear to widen over time. At intermediate levels of political complexity, a less consistent picture emerges; various explanations are considered as to why the dietary differences predicted by the ethnohistorical and archaeological records are not reflected in the osteological record. Also addressed are patterns of differences in access to nutritional resources by gender at the various levels of political organization, as well as patterns of access between rural and urban centers. Future directions of study are suggested.