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Bioarchaeology and Climate Change

A View from South Asian Prehistory

Gwen Robbins Schug

Publication Year: 2011

In the context of current debates about global warming, archaeology contributes important insights for understanding environmental changes in prehistory, and the consequences and responses of past populations to them.

In Indian archaeology, climate change and monsoon variability are often invoked to explain major demographic transitions, cultural changes, and migrations of prehistoric populations. During the late Holocene (1400-700 B.C.), agricultural communities flourished in a semiarid region of the Indian subcontinent, until they precipitously collapsed. Gwen Robbins Schug integrates the most recent paleoclimate reconstructions with an innovative analysis of skeletal remains from one of the last abandoned villages to provide a new interpretation of the archaeological record of this period.

Robbins Schug’s biocultural synthesis provides us with a new way of looking at the adaptive, social, and cultural transformations that took place in this region during the first and second millennia B.C. Her work clearly and compellingly usurps the climate change paradigm, demonstrating the complexity of human-environmental transformations. This original and significant contribution to bioarchaeological research and methodology enriches our understanding of both global climate change and South Asian prehistory.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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List of Figures

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p. vii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Climate change has long been invoked to explain extinction events, the rise and fall of civilizations, and alterations in productivity in the past. Bioarchaeology, the study of human remains from archaeological settings, offers an important opportunity to address key issues relating to climate and a range of other circumstances. In the last two decades, bioarchaeologists have investigated the consequences of key adaptive shifts on health ...

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pp. xiii-xv

With some exceptions for East Asian agricultural populations (Pietrusewsky and Douglas 2001; Oxenham, Thuy, and Cuong 2005; Oxenham and Tayles 2006; Domett and Tayles 2007), research has repeatedly demonstrated that reliance on agriculture in prehistory generally had negative impacts on human populations (Cohen 1977, 1984; Larsen 1995; Lambert 2000; Steckel and Rose 2002; Cohen and Crane-Kramer 2007). ...

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p. xvii

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Clark Larsen for inviting me to participate in this series and for advice concerning the manuscript. I particularly want to thank John Lukacs, who has remained a principle contributor to my enthusiasm and love for biological anthropology and for South Asian bioarchaeology. He has been a tireless supporter and friendly critic throughout this process. ...

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1. Origins

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pp. 1-24

The most widely known period in South Asian prehistory is the “Indus Age”—a term that encompasses settled life in Pakistan and north-western India from incipient agricultural production after 7000 b.c. to the beginning of the Iron Age about 1000 b.c. (Possehl 2002). The term “Indus civilization” refers to a time during the latter half of the third millennium (2400–1900 b.c.) when Indus sites went through a “mature” phase, best ...

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2. The Western Deccan Plateau: Environment and Climate

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pp. 25-37

Diverse ecological circumstances, combined with the forces of culture and history, have led to tremendous diversity in India’s human populations throughout prehistory (see overviews in Allchin and Allchin 1982; Kennedy 2000; Chakrabarti 2006). India is a broad, triangular peninsula positioned between 8 and 37 degrees north latitude and 68 and 97 degrees east longitude. Except for some narrow mountain passes to the northeast ...

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3. Archaeology at Nevasa, Daimabad, and Inamgaon

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pp. 38-60

Deccan Chalcolithic people built mud and mud-brick houses, made wheel-thrown pottery, used copper implements sparingly, and practiced a mixed economy with agricultural, pastoral, hunting, fishing, and gathering elements. The most recent paleoclimate research demonstrates that a semiarid climate phase commenced around 3000 b.c. in South Asia (see chapter 2). Aridity was well established in central India by the time ...

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4. Demography

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pp. 61-81

Bioarchaeologists use age and sex estimates from skeletons to reconstruct demographic profiles that describe the growth rate of a settlement, the sum of births (fertility), deaths (mortality), immigration, and emigration. These demographic profiles are then used to compare relative levels of fertility and mortality among prehistoric populations and to interpret features of the pathological profiles for skeletal populations. ...

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5. Estimating Body Massin the Subadult Skeleton

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pp. 82-88

Bioarchaeologists primarily focus on understanding the lifestyles of past people using morphological variation, markers of diet, pathology, and growth disruption in human skeletons. In this chapter, I demonstrate a method for estimating body mass from the subadult skeleton using a measure of midshaft cross-section geometry (J) (Robbins, Sciulli, and Blatt 2010). In chapter 6, I will use this technique to estimate body mass ...

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6. Reconstructing Health at Nevasa, Daimabad, and Inamgaon

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pp. 89-113

In this chapter, I examine stature and body mass in the skeletal series from Inamgaon to infer biocultural stress levels through time. In the succeeding chapter, I will integrate insights from the demographic profiles and these skeletal growth profiles to examine how subsistence transition and environmental and culture changes impacted infant and child health toward the end of the Deccan Chalcolithic period. ...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 114-123

What does the combined evidence from archaeological, paleoecological, paleoclimate, and biodemographic studies tell us about the human populations and environmental conditions in the Early and Late Jorwe at Chalcolithic Inamgaon? What significant differences occurred about 1000 b.c. that led to abandonment of the majority of most villages in west-central India? How did Inamgaon persist into the Late Jorwe phase when other ...

Appendix A. Burials from Daimabad: Archaeological Context and Grave Goods

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pp. 125-127

Appendix B. Age Estimates for Subadults in Chalcolithic Samples

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pp. 128-142

Appendix C. Long Bone Lengths (mm) and Stature (cm) for Individuals with Dental Age Estimates (months)

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pp. 143-145

Appendix D. Midshaft Femur Cross-Section Measurements for All Individuals with Intact Femur Midshafts

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pp. 147-148

Appendix E. Stature and Body Mass Estimates for Deccan Chalcolithic Specimens

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pp. 149-150


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pp. 151-153


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pp. 155-175


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pp. 177-180

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About the Author

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Gwen Robbins Schug is assistant professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University. She is author of several recent publications on skeletal evidence for leprosy in India during the second millennium b.c., human versus nonhuman bone identifications for the Donner party hearth assemblage, and methodological contributions on body mass ...

Series List

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813040677
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813036670
Print-ISBN-10: 0813036674

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 17 b&w illustrations, 21 tables,
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 749264743
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bioarchaeology and Climate Change

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Daimabad Site (India).
  • Inamgaon Site (India).
  • Nevasa Site (India).
  • Copper age -- India -- Deccan.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- India -- Deccan.
  • Human remains (Archaeology) -- India -- Deccan.
  • Paleoclimatology -- India -- Deccan.
  • Climatic changes -- India -- Deccan.
  • Deccan (India) -- Antiquities.
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