Intensification of Agriculture at Ban Chiang: Is There Evidence from the Skeletons?

Human skeletal remains excavated in 1974 -1975 at Ban Chiang, a premetal to Bronze/Iron Age site located in northeastern Thailand, are used to examine the health effects of sedentism and agricultural intensification. The archaeological sequence provides evidence for the introduction of iron and water buffalo in the Middle period, suggesting the beginning of intensified agriculture. The effects of this agricultural intensification on the paleodemography, health, and patterns of traumatic injury of Ban ChiangÕs early inhabitants is examined. The skeletal and dental attributes examined include palaeodemographic parameters, dental caries, dental enamel hypoplasia, cribra orbitalia, stature, skeletal infections, and trauma. The results of this analysis are mixed. There are decreases in life expectancy and mean age-at-death that are consistent with a decline in health over time, but evidence for an increase in fertility, expected with intensified agriculture, is not found. Expected temporal increases in dental enamel hypoplasia and adult cribra orbitalia are documented. However, the expected decline in adult stature and expected increases in dental caries, cribra orbitalia in subadults, skeletal infection, and traumatic injury are not found. Overall, the skeletal indicators support continuity in Ban Chiang health, suggesting continuous reliance on a broadly based subsistence system. These findings do not fit the typical pattern demonstrated for other human groups experiencing the transition to sedentism and intensified agriculture and may support the contention that Southeast AsiaÕs archaeological sequence differs markedly from those studied elsewhere in the world.