Considering the palaeoepidemiological implications of socioeconomic and environmental change in Southeast Asia

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Abstract

Human health change during prehistory is often assumed to be intimately associated with changes to sociopolitical complexity and subsistence regime. It is only possible to theorise about how, when and why populations may have experienced deteriorations in health, however, by taking into account context-specific mechanisms behind changes. In mainland Southeast Asia, for instance, changes to subsistence at the introduction of agricultural resources appear to have been minimal. It is not until agriculture intensifies and staple crops become an indispensable part of the diet that we are likely to see a shift in human health. Here we present a model for envisioning the dynamic interactions between human health, subsistence, social, and environmental change in the Upper Mun River valley, northeast Thailand. For the first time we review evidence from multiple archaeological and bioarchaeological studies in this region to show how current data supports our model of regionally-specific socioeconomic processes affecting host-pathogen dynamics, and therefore palaeoepidemiology and human health. We correlate changes in infant mortality and the emergence of infectious disease with socioeconomic and environmental changes that involved moat-building, corralling, deforestation and increased movement of people. All these factors have consequences for pathogen distribution. We highlight the importance of considering the palaeoepidemiological implications of socioeconomic and environmental change and emphasise the need for future work to evaluate this model both within the region and in the wider Southeast Asian context.

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King, C. L., Halcrow, S. E., Tayles, N., & Shkrum, S. (2017). Considering the palaeoepidemiological implications of socioeconomic and environmental change in Southeast Asia. Archaeological Research in Asia, 11, 27–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ara.2017.05.003

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