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Porotic hyperostosis of an infant parietal that is slight in expression
Of these indicators of nutritional stress, porotic hyperostosis (resulting from anemia) is among the best-studied indicators for archaeological populations. Anemias can potentially affect any bone of the skeleton that is involved in the production of red blood cells. The extent of the involvement of postcranial as well as cranial bones usually indicates how severe an anemia is and whether it is associated with genetic abnormalities of hemoglobin or with nutritionally induced anemia (Stuart-Macadam 1987). ... nutritional anemia has been suggested to be the primary factor in the etiology of porotic hyperostosis for the vast majority of the documented cases in prehistory (Carlson et al. 1974; El-Najjar et al. 1975; Hengen 1971; Mensforth et al. 1978; Palkovich 1987; Stuart-Macadam 1987; Walker 1985).

Porotic hyperostosis is a descriptive term for lesions on the cranium, the roof of the eye orbits, and the ends of long bones. These lesions are produced by bone marrow proliferation that is diagnostic of anemia. The lesion, as the name implies, has a very porous (coral-like) appearance that develops when diploe (the trabecular portion of the cranial bone that separates the inner and outer surfaces) expands.

Population-Level Analysis of Porotic Hyperostosis - A total of 119 individuals (approximately 69%) of the Black Mesa skeletal collection could be analyzed for the presence of porotic hyperostosis of the cranial vault, and 92 individuals (approximately 53%) of the collection could be scored for porotic hyperostosis on the orbits....

Iron-deficiency anemia is present on 87.7% of the Black Mesa individuals (showing either or both cranial and orbital expressions, either active or healed).
... early (A.D. 800-1030) and late (A.D. 1070-1150 Pueblo periods on Black Mesa ... For frequencies by severity, the only major difference is that there are no sever cases in the early period and five cases (20.0%) in the late period.

Porotic hyperostosis of an infant parietal that is severe in expression
point out that the Anasazi diet of maize is an important feature in the interpretation of the disease. An analysis of the maize species (which is a nonhybrid) used throughout the Southwest shows that it is very low in usable iron. ... The nutritive value of the Mexican tortilla has been described extensively (Cravioto et al. 1945) and shows quite clearly that iron content is very low (less than 3.2 mg/tortilla). ...

In an extensive study of the diet of a typical modern Latin American peasant farming village, (Acosta et al. 1984) the data show conclusively that iron content varies considerably according to what proportion of the diet is from red meat (which enhances absorption of iron) and vegetables and maize bread (which inhibit iron absorption). ...

Worthington-Roberts and coworkers (1988) conducted a similar study in the United States looking at the relative importance of red meat in the diet. Iron status was measured for individuals who regularly ate a variety of meat products and individuals who were vegetarians. Iron status of the vegetarians was quite poor, with many of the individuals of that group having evidence of iron-deficiency anemia. Thus, the importance of meat in the diet in sufficient amounts seems critical for meeting dietary requirements of iron” (Martin, Goodman, Armelagos,

The Taloc, which is a fearsome goggle-eyed toothy petroglyph, I propose, was the symbol for the disease of severe anemia. This disease which was well known to the Anasazi and perhaps manifest itself in hollow-eyed faces which also featured diseased and receding gums in some cases.

Conclusion - Collected evidence suggests that when the large mammals were eliminated within a three days run (the time it takes meat to rot), the “elite” in the major centers had an unresolvable problem obtaining dietary iron from animal sources. I do not think that the builders of Chaco Canyon were surviving on “rabbit drives.” My research indicates that anemia was the driving force for cannibalism and that cannibalism was not acceptable to the matrilineal indigenous clans of the Anasazi. This was the fundamental driving factor that caused the Anasazi to abandon the San Juan Basin.

Porotic hyperostosis that is active and unremodeled
copyright 2005 - Richard D Fisher -