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  • Health in Late Prehistoric Thailand
  • Michele T. Douglas
Health in Late Prehistoric Thailand. Kathryn M. Domett. BAR International Series 946, Oxford: Archaeopress, 2001. xii + 180 pp, 48 figs., 100 tables, bibliography, $45.00. ISBN 1-84171-238-8.

Health in Late Prehistoric Thailand is Kathryn M. Domett's Ph.D. dissertation in full. At a cost of approximately $45 (£30), the 180-page paperback volume, brightly bound in red, is an excellent value, especially since the dissertation is not readily available by other means.

The book synthesizes "variation in health" among four prehistoric skeletal series in Thailand that span the early agricultural period, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. Two skeletal samples are from the southeast—Khok Phanom Di (KPD), an early agricultural series and Nong Nor (NN), a Bronze Age series. Two skeletal samples are from the northeast—Ban Lum Khao (BLK), a Bronze Age series and Ban Na Di (BND), an Iron Age series. Three underlying hypotheses shape this synthesis: (1) similar natural environments will result in similar health profiles (KPD = NN, BLK = BND); (2) the health profile of people living in the northeast will contrast with that of people living in the southeast (KPD/NNB≠LK/BND); and (3) the cultural and environmental changes over time, such as intensification of rice agriculture, will result in an improvement in health profiles (KPD > NN > BLK > BND). Health profiles are generated using census data, joint disease, trauma, dental pathological conditions, and variables of growth and growth disturbance.

The book is comprised of eight chapters, five appendixes, and the references. The Introduction (Chapter One) details the research aims and hypotheses, provides a very brief review of the prehistory of Thailand, and introduces the archaeological sites and the measures of health used in the analysis. Chapter Two provides more detail on each of the four sites, including summaries of the excavation, skeletal sample, environment, natural resources, technology, and social structure. While two of the sites (Khok Phanom Di and Ban Na Di) are familiar to scholars of Thailand prehistory, the other two sites are recently excavated and this book is the first publication of much of the skeletal data. Noticeably missing from the Khok Phanom Di and Ban Na Di summaries are discussions of previous skeletal analyses. This omission, in the case of the well-published Khok Phanom Di sample, leaves the reader wondering why the author neglects to mention the skeletal evidence for genetic anemia, a crucial component of health for these people. As well, the author gives short shrift to two other well-known skeletal series (Ban Chiang and Non Nok Tha), failing to cite any works by Bayard, White, or Pietrusewsky. Unfortunately, poor preservation of the Nong Nor skeletal sample results in available data for only selected variables in the health profile.

Chapters Three through Seven present the measures utilized in the synthesis of health. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the topic, review of the methods, presentation of the results for each sample, comparison of the results among [End Page 167] the samples, discussion, and summary. The author uses Tayles' (1992) age and sex estimates and other data collections after checking for interobserver error using a sample of Khok Phanom Di skeletons. Chapter Three (Census) presents very basic palaeodemographic information for the skeletal samples, omitting life table analysis and other estimators (e.g., juvenile/adult ratio, mean childhood mortality) because of poor preservation in several of the samples. No geographical or temporal trends are found, but the very high subadult mortality in the Khok Phanom Di sample and a peak in female mortality at a younger age than in males in the Ban Lum Khao sample are noteworthy.

Growth and growth disturbances are discussed in Chapter Four. Few differences among the series are noted in comparisons of mean humeral diaphyseal length and dental age in subadults, while adult stature estimates demonstrate the peripheral position of the Khok Phanom Di sample. Growth disturbances are assessed using Harris lines (samples are too small for any reliable conclusions) and linear enamel hypoplasias in the deciduous and permanent teeth. Again, the Khok Phanom Di sample stands out for greater adult frequencies of linear enamel hypoplasia than the other three samples...


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