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Paleoobstetrics: Reproduction, workload and mortality for Ancestral Pueblo women

Pamela Kendall Stone, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Empirical data on critical obstetrical dimensions of the pelvis combined with observations of occupationally-related muscular lesions on the skeleton can be used to test the hypothesis that constricted pelvic dimensions and/or patterns of hard labor contribute to early mortality for some women. These data, combined with ethnographic information, allow for a more holistic approach to understanding the quality (how well) and quantity (how long) of life in past populations. The enduring history of populations in the American Southwest offers a unique opportunity to examine long-term patterns of health and lifestyle. Data on the relationships among reproduction, occupational stress, and mortality from eight skeletal samples (n = 188) representing Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) peoples reveal that women worked hard and that many presented compromised pelvic shape. These contracted pelves may have contributed to early death for some young women although many older women were found to have compromised pelvic dimensions as well. This suggests that while maternal mortality may have been a factor in the early deaths of reproductive age women, examination of women's lifestyle and stresses must be used to understand the myriad of stressors beyond pregnancy and parturition that contributed to young women's mortality. When skeletal data are combined with ethnographic information of birth process, corn grinding and other facets of reproduction and work, the complex relationships between pregnancy and parturition, workload and cultural practices, and the incidence of early death for young women are uncovered. Utilizing this biocultural approach to women's reproductive health will, contributes to a better understanding of the combined effects of reproduction and work patterns on women's bodies and women's lives in the past as well as the present.

Subject Area

Physical anthropology|Obstetrics|Gynecology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Stone, Pamela Kendall, "Paleoobstetrics: Reproduction, workload and mortality for Ancestral Pueblo women" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988844.