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Reviewed by:
  • Ban Chiang, A Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand I: The Human Skeletal Remains
  • Marc Oxenham
Ban Chiang, A Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand I: The Human Skeletal Remains. Michael Pietrusewsky and Michele Toomay Douglas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, University Museum Monograph 111, 2002. 493 pp. $100.00 (hardcover). ISBN 0-924171-92-8.

This is the first major publication on the past human biology of a Southeast Asian assemblage to combine a bioarchaeological and more traditional quantitative-qualitative [End Page 162] morphological analysis. The result is a very well-integrated study of the inhabitants of Ban Chiang, who lived some 4100 to 800 years ago on the northern aspect of the Khorat Plateau. Pietrusewsky is a prominent biological anthropologist who has been researching in the Asia-Pacific region for over a quarter century. Douglas analyzed the Ban Chiang assemblage for her doctoral thesis under the supervision of Pietrusewsky.

The monograph is presented as 13 chapters of variable length with five extensive appendices and a CD-ROM that provides a wealth of data on various pathologies, skeletal completeness, nonmetric variation, and so forth. Moreover, a very useful index has also been included. The introductory chapter briefly reviews the history of archaeological work in Thailand previous to the Ban Chiang excavations in the 1970s. The site itself is then introduced followed by the chief aims of the monograph, which include the effects of sedentism and agricultural intensification, evidence for social hierarchy, and patterns of (and explanations for) differential health.

Chapter 2 is a very brief review of methods employed in excavation, skeletal preparation, recording, sex and age-at-death determination, stature estimation, and nonmetric trait pathology recording. While much of these data are summarized in the appendixes, the specific details, including the frequent problems and solutions that arise with fragmentary material concerning age and sex determination, are not reviewed. This is a troubling oversight given skeletal preservation problems detailed in Chapter 3 and reliance on accurate constitutive data in the subsequent palaeodemographic analysis in Chapter 4. Chapter 3 goes on to review aspects of skeletal completeness, mortuary behavior, and general taphonomic factors that can affect skeletal preservation and notes some that have impacted the Ban Chiang assemblage specifically.

Detailed data analysis begins in Chapter 4 with an investigation of the demographic makeup of the assemblage. They note that, overall, the age-at-death distribution approaches that observed in general for archaeological populations. The sex ratios were slightly dissimilar between the temporally earlier and later subsamples of the assemblage, although they suggest this to be more artifactual than indicative of actual demographic sex ratio differences. The mortality profiles differed by sex and this was attributed to increased female mortality during their principle reproductive life stage. The authors also employ a number of demographic formulae that have been demonstrated to be robust to age-at-death estimation and sampling biases. A combination of the juvenile-adult ratio and measure of mean childhood mortality suggested that the Ban Chiang population had low levels of fertility and was likely static or even slightly declining. However, a measure of the proportion of juvenile and old dependents was extremely low and suggested to the authors that life was relatively "easy" in terms of this measure at least.

Chapter 5 describes the sample in terms of qualitative and quantitative measures of cranial morphology. Pietrusewsky has published extensively on morphological variation, microevolutionary change, and migratory patterns within the East Asian and Pacific region. The chief findings in this chapter were that the sample is morphologically consistent with an East Asian and/or Pacific ancestry. Moreover, the study seems to suggest the practice of exogamy at Ban Chiang, with males clustering in terms of specific sets of nonmetric traits. A concise examination of dental morphology notes the relative small size of the Ban Chiang molar dentition and finds some evidence for genetic continuity within the temporally earlier grouping and possible genetic discontinuity between the two samples. The authors also suggest the series, as a whole, is allied with the Sundadont dental pattern. However, the results of this particular analysis can only be provisional given the restricted number of traits examined.

Most dental pathologies examined by bioarchaeologists are...