Health and behaviour
: during the mid-holocene and metal period of Northern Viet Nam

  • Marc Fredrick Oxenham

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This is a study of the health and behaviour of the past inhabitants of what is now the northern portion of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The thesis examines human skeletal evidence from two Holocene time periods in order to compare and contrast health profiles and behavioural implications. Skeletal and dental remains of ninetyfour individuals excavated from a mid-Holocene Da But period site and ninety-six individuals from Metal period sites formed the samples.
    Bio-archaeological macroscopic and radiological techniques were used to explore differences and similarities in the manifestations of health and behaviour within and between these two samples. All specimens were examined and assessed according to categories developed in a relational database using standard metric and non-metric skeletal and dental recording protocols. Analyses resulted in oral health profiles, insights into articular health, levels of physiological stress and case studies of traumatic and non-traumatic skeletal lesions.

    The oral health of these samples was found to be relatively high by global and Southeast Asian standards. Nonetheless, there is evidence for slightly poorer oral health in the Metal period. Little evidence for serious articular disease was found for either sample. The temporally earlier Da But period sample displays slightly higher levels of articular change, consistent with the older age structure of this sample. There is evidence for a very high frequency of childhood anaemia in both samples, but without any obvious negative impact on adult health. Canine linear enamel hypoplasia is relatively high for both samples by Southeast Asian standards and has impacted on the health of adults in each dental series. A combination of factors associated with a sedentary lifestyle and marine economic focus are implicated. Low levels of traumatic injury in the Metal period and high levels in the Da But period implicate significant, albeit unknown, behavioural differences between each period. Infectious disease makes its first appearance in the Metal period sample and changes to the population-environment dynamic, including massive population movements into the region at the time, are implicated.

    The evidence suggests both samples derive from sedentary communities with riverine, coastal and marine economic foci. For the Da But sample, there is no human biological data supporting the view that agriculture or horticulture was practised. As for the Metal period assemblage, the bioarchaeological information is consistent with historical evidence, albeit contrary to archaeological models, suggesting the local populace did not survive on the products of intensive agricultural pursuits. The Metal period data suggest a foraging or mixed agriculture/foraging subsistence base.

    Date of Award2000
    Original languageEnglish

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