Pathoecology and paleodiet in postclassic: historic Maya from northern coastal Belize

Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2006 Dec 5;101 Suppl 2:35-42. doi: 10.1590/s0074-02762006001000007.


This paper examines the synergism among diet, disease, and ecology at two related coastal Maya sites in Belize (Marco Gonzalez and San Pedro) for the Postclassic and Historic periods (1350-1650 AD), which immediately follow the Classic period collapse. Stable carbon- and nitrogen-isotope ratios in collagen and stable carbon-isotope ratios in structural carbonate were analysed for bones from 65 humans and a wide variety of faunal species. There are no apparent differences in whole diets or degree of carnivory between individuals with lesions indicative of anemia and those without, but those with lesions appear to have consumed significantly more C4 foods and protein from lower trophic levels. Non-specific infection (periostitis) and vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) are also present in high frequencies and appear to co-occur with lesions indicative of anemia, particularly in childhood. Individuals with scurvy also appear to have consumed significantly more C4 foods than normal individuals. Spondyloarthropathy is common in adults. These findings are discussed in light of: (1) the debate on how anemia versus scurvy are manifest and diagnosed, (2) Spanish ethnohistoric descriptions of the poor state of Maya health at the time of contact, and (3) the Osteological Paradox. We suggest that although this coastal environment exacerbated morbidity because of possible parasitic infection, the inhabitants were probably able to survive physiological stresses better than either their inland contemporaries or their modern counterparts.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / complications
  • Anemia / history*
  • Belize
  • Bone Diseases / etiology
  • Bone Diseases / history*
  • Diet / history*
  • Ecology / history*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Indians, Central American / history*
  • Paleopathology
  • Scurvy / complications
  • Scurvy / history*