Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

William M. Bass

Committee Members

Francis S. Jones, R.L. Jantz, Walter E. Klippel


This study investigates the differences in the pattern of involvement of osteoarthritis between two groups of prehistoric American Indians who lived in a similar ecosystem and climate, separated by time and cultural activities. The purpose of this biocultural investigation was to determine if there was a difference in the patterning of the degenerative lesions in the two skeletal series and if that suite of characteristics would assist in determining possible aetiological factors and culturally determined activities.

Two archaeological skeletal series were utilized, Averbuch (40DV60), of middle Tennessee, to represent an agricultural site outside the mainstream of the late Mississippian period and Indian Knoll (240H2), in Kentucky, an Archaic series. A detailed examination of the adult osseous remains was undertaken employing a sample of 196 individuals from Averbuch and 199 from Indian Knoll: observations were made bilaterally on forty-five discrete areas of the four large peripheral joints. The statistical analysis of the discrete variables as well as those of the total joints, knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow are discussed at length.

A distinct difference in the pattern of involvement of degenerative joint disease was evident, the Averbuch individuals exhibited a highly statistically significant greater involvement than the Indian Knoll individuals. Averbuch exhibited evidence of an earlier onset of degenerative changes and a higher degree of severity than Indian Knoll within all joints.

The degenerative changes indicate that the females of both sample populations utilized the shoulder in comparable fashion although the Averbuch women manifested evidence of more stressful behavior at all ages.

Biological and social evidence of stress indicate that factors other than culturally determined physical activities existed which contributed to the generally more adversarial climate in which the Averbuch people survived.

The results of this study emphasize the adverse effect which agriculture and its attendant modifications in cultural activities may have on the human species.

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