Lagao Santa’s Contribution to the Origins and Life of Early Americans

This article focuses on the lifestyle of numerous early Hunter-Gatherer skeletons recovered from the Lagoa Santa region in central Brazil, and discusses how old they are, how they got there, and what the habits of these groups were. Overall, the good preservation of these skeletons in the Lagoa Santa rock shelter provides insight into their way of life.

The Lagoa Santa skeletons represent some of the oldest skeletons known in the Americas, as confirmed by many excavations and analyses of the archaeological material since the 1960s. The most recent work in the region, starting in 2000, confirmed that the region was occupied between 11,000-7,000 years before present, and the local groups seem to have coexisted peacefully with extinct megafauna for at least the first half of this period.

How these groups are tied to the initial occupation of the Americas is still highly debated. The Lagoa Santa individuals, know as Paleoamericans, are distinct from modern Native Americans when we look at their skull shape, which raises the question on how this variation occurred – whether these differences originated before or after the initial migration(s) to the Americas. Based on the analysis of cranial data of several archaeological collections from South America, the authors suggest that the differences observed are actually too large to have originated after the settlement of the Americas and therefore they support the idea that the differences reflect a population split that occurred in Asia before any migration into the New World.

The lifestyle seen in Lagoa Santa is also different from what is seen among other Hunter-Gatherer populations on the planet. While they show a typical reliance on small to medium sized animals, they seem to have relied more intensely on plants than traditional Hunter-Gatherers, as shown by their oral health problems. Moreover, their skeletal features suggest they were less mobile than traditional Hunter-Gatherers. As such, it is safe to say that this particular population was unlike the rest of prehistoric Native Americans, but only time will tell how unique they really were.


Reconstructing the Deep Population History of Central and South America

Map of ancient ancestry in the Americas

Based on previous genome research, all central/south American’s stemmed from a single homogenous population – with Anzick-1 (one of the few skeletons known that is associated to the Clovis-culture) being their common ancestor. Yet, as new DNA  is recovered from prehistoric remains, this does not seem to be the case. This new article presents ancient DNA data recovered from 49 individuals from different corners of South America and from different ages. The analysis of this new data shows that there was at least four genetic dispersion waves that gave rise to the current genetic diversity found among Central and South Native Americans.

This research also shed some light on exactly how much ancestral DNA could be found in present day people. Individuals who lived prior to 6000 years ago showed significantly more ancestral DNA (similar to Anzick-1) than those who lived after that time.Could this be due to a replacement event that occurred around that time and erased the early genetic signal? Could it be something else? Time will tell. Until more data is collected, we will not be able to solve the puzzle of when these events really happened or which Native American groups were involved.


Comparisons of statistical techniques to assess age-related skeletal markers in bioarchaeology.

Graph illustrating the differences in frequencies of different statistical models

In this technical note by Cheverko and Hubbe explores the impact different statistical tests have on determining patterns and trends of osteoarthritis in past populations. This study aims to contribute to the analysis of any type of osteological marker based collected as present or absent. They compares the results of Chi-Square, the Fisher’s Exact, Odds Ratio tests, and ANCOVAs. The study included individuals from seven archaeological sites and examined the prevalence of osteoarthritis in the hip, knee, shoulder, and elbow. The comparison between tests shows that for larger sample sizes all tests provide similar accuracy, with the ANCOVA presenting the important advantage of being able to correct for the effect of age in the osteological markers. Therefore, even though binary data violates some of the assumptions behind ANCOVAs, this Cheverko and Hubbe argue this test should be used more often in bioarchaeological studies.


AAPA 2018

Illustration for the 2018 AAPA's 87th annual meeting in Austin, Texas

To celebrate another great year of academic endeavors, we would like to acknowledge all the paper and poster presented at 87th Meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Austin, TX. Thank you all so much for your efforts! We are looking forward to what you are bringing to the table in the future!!!


  • Leigh Oldershaw, Mark Hubbe and Christina Torres-Rouff – “Tiwanaku affiliation and quality of life in Middle Horizon San Pedro de Atacama, Chile”
  • Brianne Herrera and Mark Hubbe – “Correspondence Between Cranial Morphological Regions and mtDNA in Western South America”
  • Melissa Clark and Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg – “A Third Molar from Rathfarnham, Dublin, and the Patterning Cascade Model”
  • Devon Reich and Melissa Clark – “Planting Perthes: Agriculture and Mechanical Loading in a Pre-Contact Female”
  • Skyler Jackim – “Bearing the Burden: Trauma During Agricultural Intensification in Pre-Contact Ohio”
  • Julianne Stamer, Kathryn Marklein and Mark Hubbe – “The Influence of Biology and Culture on Sexual Dimorphism in Carious Lesions in Pre-History”
  • Julie Anna Margolis and Kendra Ann Sirak – “The Impact of Tetracycline Presence on Endogenous DNA Yield in the Kulubnarti Nubians”
  • Mackie O’Hara et al. – “Accurately reconstructing crown heights of anterior teeth using micro-computed tomographic scans of fossil teeth”
  • Emma Lagan, Daniel E. Ehrlich and Sean M. Pesce – “Dentine Without Borders: An improved dental macrowear scoring method with cross- cultural application”
  • Mark Hubbe and Colleen Cheverko – “Extending the ‘Adaptive Landscape’ Metaphor to Bioarchaeological Theory and Practice”
  • Colleen Cheverko – “Growth, Childhood Stress, and Mortality Risk During the Late Period in Central California”



Check out the abstracts for the meetings in the official AAPA program here:

Brief communication: A re-evaluation of the health index of southern Brazilian shellmound populations

Picture of a shellmound

The prehistoric shellmounds of Brazil, locally known as “Sambaquis”, are among the most studied archaeological sites in the country. They represent a continuous human occuipation of the coast by Fisher-Hunter-Gatherer populations from 8000 to 1200 years ago. In 2002, they were included in a comparative study and found to be among the healthiest prehistoric populations in the Americas. However, the individuals used in that initial study were missing their complete skeleton, calling for a comparative study to determine if these groups really led healthier lives than most. In our recent article (download it here) we analyzed 18 complete skeletons from the small shellmound Porto do Rio Vermelho 02 and examined several skeletal markers of health and life-style, to test wheter shellmound builder really were healthier than other prehistoric American populations. Our results show clearly that this population did not seem to be as healthy as we once thought, contradiction the previous depiction of these Brazilian groups.