Reviewed by Patricia M. Lambert, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599
This collection of 15 contributed papers offers a well-balanced and thought-provoking coverage of the biological consequences of New World contacts. The volume is an outgrowth of a symposium organized for the 1992 annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although it is but one of many volumes associated with the commemoration of the Columbian Quincentenary, it is distinguished from most by its emphasis on bioarchaeological evidence and its broad areal focus. With two exceptions, the chapters in this volume focus on the osteological evidence for changing patterns of health, diet, activity patterns, and levels of violent conflict stemming from contact with Europeans. In some cases, the researchers address a particular question; in others, they appeal to a wide variety of data to document general patterns of change. The studies take the reader from east to west across North America, and then southward to regions in Central and South America, as well as to the eastern reaches of Oceania. As such, this volume offers insights and new data on contacts between a number of distinct indigenous groups and the European explorers, settlers, and traders with whom they came into contact.
The volume begins with a brief but informative introductory chapter by Larsen and Milner, which serves to acquaint the reader with the unifying philosophy guiding the presentations as well as the strengths and limitations of the osteological record on which most of the studies are based. From a starting point in the southeast, the next nine chapters cover contacts between Native Americans and Europeans in North America. In Chapter 2, Hutchinson and Norr appeal to carbon and nitrogen isotope data to address questions of dietary change on the Gulf coast of Florida. In the following chapter, Larsen and Ruff use long bones dimensions and biomechanics to assess changes in physical activity associated with Spanish colonization of La Florida. Chapter 4 moves northward to the "Praying Towns" of southern New England, where Baker uses both historical and osteological data to look at the effects of contacts (with Pilgrims) and forced relocations on the health and cultural continuity of the Narragansett and other indigenous east coast groups. The health effects of contact among the Iroquoians of southern Ontario is the subject of Chapter 5, a broad osteological study by Pfeiffer and Fairgrieve of health before and after contacts with European traders, explorers, and priests. Moving westward, Chapter 6 by Reinhard et al. presents a study of female health among the Omaha and Ponca of Northeast Nebraska that uses several different lines of evidence, including degenerative joint disease, to document changes in workload associated with the Euro-American fur trade. Cybulski also uses osteological data in Chapter 7 to assess the health effects of trade contacts on the native peoples of the Northwest Coast, bringing a wealth of prehistoric data to bear on the question of changes specific to European contact. In Chapters 8 and 9, health changes among southwestern Puebloan peoples are investigated. Palkovich uses historic epidemiological records to document the variable effects of Spanish-introduced diseases on different Puebloan populations, and Stodder juxtaposes prehistoric and contact period osteological data to derive a before and after picture of health in the semi-arid southwest. The last chapter on North American groups focuses on the demographic effects of European-introduced diseases on the Chumash of south coastal California, and Walker and Johnson use historic records from four Chumash missions to track epidemics during the Spanish and Mexican Periods. Although the nature of the data differs considerably between studies, it is clear that European contacts varied significantly in their purpose, nature, and effects in different regions of North America.
The sampling of contact situations outside of North America is more sporadic, but does serve to broaden the sample. Chapters 11 and 12 are both studies of the impacts of Spanish contacts on Mayan populations at trade centers in Belize. Cohen et al. consider a range of osteological indicators of health in a Mayan sample from Tipu, while White et al. look at both diet and health in Postclassic and Historic skeletal samples from Lamanai. The health consequences of Spanish exploration and settlement to the south in Ecuador are then explored by Ubelaker, rounding out the picture of Spanish impacts on New World populations. The final two chapters of the book present studies of European contacts in Oceania. In Chapter 14, Owsley et al. search out the osteological evidence for violent conflict, disease, and genetic admixture resulting from contacts between i ndigenous peoples and European mariners on Easter Island. The volume concludes with an osteological study by Pietrusewsky and Douglas on health changes in Native Hawaii consequent upon contacts with English and other European explorers.
So ends the volume, and therein lies one of my few criticisms the absence of a concluding chapter. With such a stimulating collection of studies, a summation of where we are and a look forward to where we might go was really in order. My other criticism, which is really subsumed under the other, is the absence in all but a single study of comparative health data on contemporaneous European colonists. How can we ever come to understand the uniqueness of the Native American contact-period disease experience arguably the most important impact of European contact without any knowledge of how Europeans fared in this New World disease environment? These comments aside, I enjoyed this volume and highly recommend it to scholars and other readers interested in this indisputably important period of American history.