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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: March 2010

11 - Health and Nutrition in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica



Central Mexico witnessed the development and florescence of pre–Columbian Mesoamerican complex societies for over two thousand years, including several urban civilizations and centers of influential empires. Using four skeletal samples that span the Mesoamerican sequence from an early ranked village to a Post classic urban society, we trace the health effects of living in such an arid highland environment. The small skeletal samples available here cannot provide more than hints as to quality of life, but comparisons with other hemispheric samples indicate that health problems are always present. There is moderate morbidity in the earliest, most simple society; however, as populations became more dense, urban, socially stratified, and militaristic, there is a general trend to greater burdens of morbidity through time as reflected in the various health indicators. Future research is needed to test the broad pattern of change portrayed here in this first attempt to look at the quality of life for all of pre–Columbian Central Mexico.


Mesoamerica has been an important area for archaeological research for some time. Despite the amount of information that we have from these ancient societies, whether from small or grand monumental sites, our knowledge about their inhabitants is less developed: how they lived, what they ate, what kind of health problems they had, or what kind of activities they developed. We think that a helpful means of answering these questions is through the analysis of the way of life of these individuals. Our approach is to study the skeletons, searching for the multicausality of physiological adjustment with the material conditions of existence and lifestyle, which in turn shape culture, habits, and habitat.