Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Robert H. Tykot, Ph.D.

Keywords

Bioarchaeology, Hemozoin, Mediterranean, Porotic hyperostosis, Thalassemia

Abstract

Sardinia was an island with a history of a malarious environment until eradication efforts were conducted from 1946 to 1950. While historic documents suggest the disease was introduced from North Africa around 500 BC, no study has been conducted to test for the presence of malaria in prehistoric native populations, such as the Nuragic people of the Bronze Age. However, it has been suggested that aspects of the Nuragic culture, for example the stone structures found throughout the island, are adaptations to a malarious environment. The purpose of this dissertation is to test the hypothesis that malaria was present in prehistoric Sardinia. In addition, the value of applying anthropology, pertaining specifically to prehistoric investigations, to understand and combat malaria is supported. To test for the presence of malaria, multiple lines of evidence were used to analyze human skeletal remains from a Middle Bronze Age tomb.

Because malaria does not result in a specific pattern of bony responses that can be identified through a gross analysis of the remains, additional lines of evidence were used. These included an osteological analysis for the possible presence of conditions related to malaria (e.g., inherited hemolytic anemias) and the collection of bone samples to test for ancient malaria DNA, Plasmodium falciparum histidine-rich protein II, and the malarial pigment hemozoin. In addition, a review of the literature pertaining to the ecology and history of Sardinia were used with archaeological data to evaluate if it was possible the malaria parasite was affecting humans on the island during prehistory. While it was interpreted that conditions were favorable for malaria to infect individuals during this time, and possible cultural adaptations were noted, no conclusive evidence was found by analyzing skeletal remains.

More work is needed to diagnose malaria better in human remains and understand the health of populations in Sardinia during the Bronze Age. Considering the coevolution of malaria parasites, humans, and mosquitoes is a necessary step in developing methods to combat malaria as the parasite and disease vector become more resistant to medicine and insecticides. In particular, applying anthropological methods and theories shows promise for fighting this disease.

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