Anemia and childhood mortality: Latitudinal patterning along the coast of pre-Columbian Peru

Deborah E. Blom, Jane E. Buikstra, Linda Keng, Paula D. Tomczak, Eleanor Shoreman, Debbie Stevens-Tuttle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Hrdlička ([1914] Smithson. Inst. Misc. Collect. 67:1-69) reported that pre-Columbian skeletal material from the coastal lowland Andean region exhibited a high frequency of porotic hyperostosis, a pathological condition of bone that generally is thought to indicate childhood anemia. While subsequent studies tended to reinforce this conclusion, factors implicated in the condition have yet to be fully explored in the region as a whole. This study explores regional and intravalley variation as one step in establishing biocultural variables that increase the apparent risk of childhood anemia. The study sample includes 1,465 individuals: 512 from Peruvian collections housed at the Field Museum of Natural History, and 953 from systematically excavated contexts from Moquegua, Peru. Environmental stressors, such as parasites and disease, rather than specific dietary practices were found to be more likely associated with childhood anemia in these coastal Andean samples. The study supports cribra orbitalia as an earlier expression of porotic hyperostosis and suggests that porotic hyperostosis, as recorded here, cannot be easily dismissed as a result of cranial shape modification. No clear temporal patterns were observed. Finally, the study establishes that comparing data for children and adults can reveal the relative association between childhood anemia and mortality. Childhood mortality associated with anemia was elevated where the presence of tuberculosis or tuberculosis-like conditions was more common and the presence of water-borne pathogens was negligible. In contrast, those buried at lower altitudes, closer to the coast, and consuming mainly marine resources were less likely to die in childhood with anemia than in the other contexts studied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-169
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Andes
  • Paleopathology
  • Parasites
  • Porotic hyperostosis
  • Skeletal biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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