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Volume 51 / Social Sciences


ROBERT A. HALBERSTEIN, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Miami, Coral Gables

THE LITERATURE ON PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY of Latin America continues to grow both in quality and quantity. Substantial new biological research on native populations in the Americas has provided additional illustrative examples of different processes of evolution, including genetic drift, hybridization, and natural selection. The variety of topics represented, ranging from prehistoric skeletal morphology to nutrition, high altitude physiology, cross-cultural healing practices, genetic variability, and population growth, all have a common denominator in the analytical focus upon evolution and adaptation. A new journal in the field first appeared in 1988: American Journal of Human Biology (New York: Liss Publishers).

The annotated materials are arranged under five headings: 1) PALEOANTHROPOLOGY; 2) POPULATION GENETICS; 3) BIODEMOGRAPHY; 4) HUMAN ADAPTATION AND VARIATION; and 5) MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY. A large number of recent doctoral dissertations dealing with Latin American physical anthropology are listed at the end of this introduction.


The publications in this section are concerned with the physical remains of prehistoric and early historic (precolumbian) peoples from Latin America. Fossilized human skeletal materials dating from 15,000 years ago and mummies as old as 4,000 years are described from archaeological sites in Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, and Panama. The discoveries are analyzed with the latest methods and techniques in anthropometric measurement, X-ray technology, photomicroscopy, and histology. A wide selection of subjects is addressed, including tooth wear and dental caries, body height and weight reconstructions, ancient burial customs and mummification techniques, and paleopathology.

A number of studies trace the origin and evolution of diseases in Latin America. An outstanding example is the examination of a large sample of skeletal/mummified remains from Chile and Peru by Allison et al. (item bi 88000501) that further confirms the prehispanic existence of syphilis in the New World. It is encouraging to observe that the accumulating stockpile of paleopathological data from Latin America is being increasingly utilized to solve longstanding controversies such as the prehistoric emergence of sexually-transmittable diseases in the region. Several authors have been able to determine causes of mortality in earlier populations. For example, evidence is presented which indicates death caused by childbirth complications, pneumonia, and intestinal parasites (items bi 90012049, bi 88000521, bi 90012079, and bi 88000502). López Austin (item bi 90012078) has written an insightful book on biocultural concepts of the human body and healing among the Nahuatl Indians of ancient Mexico.

The cultural practices of cannibalism and artificial deformation are also reported. For example, osteological indications of cannibalism are described for a Venezuelan archaeological site (item bi 90012048). Artificial cranial modification (reshaping) dates back to at least 10,000 years ago in South America. Cranial remodeling techniques are discussed, and classifications of categories of skull alterations are provided (items bi 90012087 and bi 88000353). Utilizing a particularly effective study design, a sample of 6,000-year-old deformed crania from Chile are statistically compared with an equal number of unmodified specimens from the same population with respect to 45 anthropometric measurements (item bi 88001642).

The continuing debate surrounding the earliest inhabitation and colonization of the Americas has been fueled by fresh biological and cultural data. For example, Laughlin and Harper (item bi 90012076), Bryan (item bi 90012051), and Fagan (item bi 90012054) cite archaeological and genetic findings that support the traditional view that the initial migrations into the New World occurred 15,000-20,000 years ago across the Bering land bridge. On the other hand, Gruhn (item bi 90012069) argues for a Pacific coastal entry at least 35,000 years ago. Greenberg (item bi 90012060) combines linguistic, dental, and genetic information to reconstruct the sequence of early migratory events. Additional studies focus upon the degree of relationship of Amerindian and Asian populations based upon anthropometric comparisons, blood group genetics, frequency of shovel-shaped incisor teeth, and other indicators (item bi 90012055, bi 90012104, bi 90012161, and bi 90012127).


Population genetics is a major research interest in Latin American physical anthropology. Comparative studies of different racial and ethnic groups are based upon various genetically determined traits including blood groups, serum proteins (e.g., albumin, antibodies, etc.), abnormal hemoglobins, red blood cell and serum enzymes (e.g., superoxide dismutase), dental characteristics, salivary proteins and discretely inherited diseases such as cleft palate (item bi 88002525). The publications here represent fieldwork conducted in 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries utilizing such methods as electrophoresis, isoelectric focusing (IEF), chromosome band analysis, a number of clinical tests, and computer-based reconstructions of genetic distances and hybridization estimates.

Several pressing research problems are investigated with population genetic data. For example, the origin and evolution of hemoglobin S in the Americas is traced with anthropological evidence. The relative importance of recurrent mutation versus repeated migration and natural selection is assessed with statistical findings (items bi 90012139, bi 90012149, bi 90012167, bi 90012132, bi 90012158 and bi 90012169). The relative contributions of different ancestral populations to contemporary "Indian" and "mestizo" groups are calculated with data on migration, mate selection, and genetic microevolution. A number of articles shed considerable new light upon the genetic/ethnic composition of Brazil (items bi 90012137, bi 90012140, bi 90012145, bi 90012152, bi 90012153, bi 90012111, bi 90012161, bi 90012163, bi 90012164, bi 90012159, bi 90012175 and bi 90012176). Several papers deal with the unique genetic makeup of Mexican sub-populations (items bi 90012147, bi 90012142, bi 90012154 and bi 90012155). Two interesting studies are concerned with the comparison of Japanese and Amerindian gene frequencies (items bi 90012136 and bi 90012174).

Two in-depth genetic investigations have been reported recently. Sokal et al. (item bi 90012173) provide a case study of the microevolution of Yanoama Indians from Venezuela and Brazil, including an analysis of genetic distances in the context of geographic and linguistic distances. Salzano and Caligari-Jaques (item bi 90012164) have compiled an excellent synthesis of voluminous anthropological genetics research in South America.


The materials under this heading represent field research conducted in 21 Latin American and Caribbean countries as well as reviews of data from several additional nations. A variety of issues are considered that have direct relevance to physical anthropology: population size and spatial distribution, age-sex structure, population growth and fertility, migration and mate selection, mortality, and the biological and health correlates of other demographic features. The guidebook edited by Goodwin (item bi 90012198) is an excellent general reference resource on Latin American population dynamics. The impressive monograph by Ebanks (item bi 90012192) is a detailed, multifaceted exposition of the demography of Dominica and St. Lucia.

Latin American fertility trends exhibit diversity in different countries and ethnic groups. Contributing factors include marital age, sex relations, breast-feeding practices, contraception, divorce rates, voluntary sterilization, nutrition, SES, and household structure. The statistical study by Moreno-Navarro et al., (item bi 90012589) deftly compares fertility survey data from three South American and two Central American nations. Four separate studies have been conducted recently on cross-cultural differences in reproductive patterns in Mexico (items bi 90012583, bi 90012585, bi 90012593 and bi 90012597). Review articles on household types in Latin America and the Caribbean have been assembled by DeVos (item bi 90012190) and Halberstein (item bi 90010509).

Overall mortality configurations in Latin America are described by Florez and Morales (items bi 90012195 and bi 90012142). Hobcraft et al. (items bi 90012582 and bi 90012201) compare 12 Latin American countries with respect to infant and childhood mortality. A recent case study of death rates in Chile illustrates the significance of geographic/regional variations in factors affecting mortality (item bi 90012200).

A number of items are concerned with urbanization and demographic transition. Halberstein (item bi 90012199) outlines the health and biological effects of urban environments throughout Latin America. Rural-urban migration streams and associated demographic stresses are depicted for Ecuador (item bi 90012180), Nicaragua (item bi 90012184), Venezuela (item bi 90012187), and Mexico (item bi 90012595).


This section covers a combination of basic environmental adaption research and descriptive works on racial variations in biological traits. High altitude stress continues to command strong research interest, especially in native populations from Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. Cross-cultural differences in growth and nutrition are being explored in several countries.

The publications on biological variation cover an assortment of areas ranging from traditional anthropometry (item bi 88000762) to statistical comparisons of dental measurements (item bi 90012969, bi 90012972, and bi 90012980). The practical application of anthropometric data toward the solution of health problems is underscored in recent field investigations of hypertension (item bi 90012978), cardiovascular disease (item bi 90012985), and infant mortality (item bi 90012986). The volume of symposium proceedings edited by Galvan and Rodríguez (item bi 90012921) is a rich source of fresh insights into the physical anthropology of Mexico. A multi-disciplinary volume on the biology and evolution of the Black Carib (Garifuna) people of Central America and the Caribbean is edited by M. H. Crawford (item bi 90012922).

The nutritional research reported here delves into growth and development, dietary constituents, environmental impingements, breast-feeding, and the evaluation of nutritional status indicators. Malina (items bi 90012985 and bi 90012986) has offered a useful review of growth, nutritional stress, and physical performance of children and adults in Latin America. The series of papers on growth in Mexican children by Little et al. (items bi 90012981, bi 90012983 and bi 90012984) comprises an instructive example of the interplay of genetic and cultural facets of growth processes. National nutritional survey results are presented from a number of countries. Recent large-scale work in Brazil and Mexico has been particularly thorough and productive.


Medical anthropology is currently undergoing an explosive growth in research. New theories and data bases are rapidly being constructed, due in large part to substantial field work in Latin America. The items in this section account for over 35 percent of the entire review. The studies cover numerous aspects of health ecology in the region. Twenty-one different countries are represented in a mixture of research approaches.

Several of the publications report results of basic epidemiological investigations on factors influencing disease distribution patterns (e.g., items bi 90013372 and bi 90013371). The penetrating observations by Hunter et al. (item bi 90013344) sharply illuminates the role of environmental variables in TB incidence in Puerto Rico.

Two important areas of the biomedical field which feature collaborative research by physical and cultural anthropologists are drug use and traditional ethnomedicine. The highly successful activities of spiritual healers are outlined by Aguirre Beltran (item bi 90013030), Anderson (item bi 90013031), Brown (item bi 90013079), McKee (item bi 90013352), and Pederson et al. (items bi 90013369 and bi 90013370). Indigenous peoples of Latin America now have access to a variety of traditional and "Western" medical services. The processes of health-seeking behavior and selection of appropriate care facilities comprise a relevant research topic in modern medical anthropology (e.g., items bi 90013331 and bi 90013332). Medicinal plants, curative herbs, and folk remedies have been catalogued for 11 different countries: Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Bastien's book (item bi 90013033) is a colorful case study of herbalism in the South American Andes. Dobkin de Ríos (items bi 90013096 and bi 90013097) has authored two provocative works on hallucinogenic plant utilization in Latin America with emphasis on Peru and Mexico.

Medical modernization and acculturation is an important ingredient in the rapidly changing Latin American scene. Davidson's field study (item bi 90013093) is an outstanding example of cultural evolution as seen in the gradual adaptation of traditional medical systems in Peru. Spiritual healing among the Otomi Indians likewise has survived and maintained its identity despite accelerating cultural change in this region of Mexico (item bi 90013335). Three new insightful contributions by Foster (items bi 90013336, bi 90013337, and bi 90013338) effectively trace the origin and development of humoral ("hot/cold") medicine in Latin America with fresh perspectives afforded by new data. In a similar fashion, Rubel et al. (item bi 90013390) re-examine and redefine the Latin American folk illness called susto (magical fright). The paper by Parker (item bi 90013368) represents the first publication on AIDS epidemiology in a Latin American country. The items by Bersh and Osorio (item bi 90013035) and Jackson and Ugalde (item bi 90013345) deal with additional biological and medical aspects of urbanization and technological advancement.


Allen, Lisa Ann. Otitis media among Puerto Ricans and blacks: ethnicity, epidemiology, and family health cultures. Univ. of Connecticut, 1988.
Balcazar, Hector. Birthweight-mortality relationships in an urban poor population of Mexico City: implications for screening infants at risk. Cornell Univ., 1987.
Barbeau, Irma S. Child nutrition in Panama: an investigation of sex bias and maternal allocation of food and other resources. Cornell Univ., 1987.
Berg, Ronald H. The effects of return migration on a highland Peruvian community. Univ. of Michigan, 1984.
Birch, Renee I. Black beans, bean broth and growth of pre-school Guatemalan children. Washington State Univ., 1985.
Brazzell, Jan F. Occupational modernity and family size limitation among married women in Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru. Univ. of Indiana, 1984.
Burleigh, Elizabeth. The etiology of protein-calorie malnutrition in central highland Guatemala. Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1986.
Butler, Paula. Environmental, social-cultural, and health factors associated with diarrhea in Santa Cruz Mixtepec, Juxtlaltuaca, Oaxaca, Mexico. Univ. of Tennessee, 1985.
Chapman, Colin. Foraging strategies, patch use, and constraints on group size in three species of Costa Rican primates. Univ. of Alberta, 1987.
Chavira, Alicia. Women, migration, and health: conditions and strategies of a Mexican migrant population in the Midwest. Univ. of California, Los Angeles 1987.
Davis, Edmund. The ethnobiology of the Haitian zombie. Harvard, 1986.
Ferguson, Anne. Underdevelopment and health in El Salvador: a community study. Michigan State Univ., 1987.
Ferreira, Beatriz Rocha. Growth, physical performance and psychological characteristics of eight-year old Brazilian school children from low socioeconomic background. Univ. of Texas, 1987.
Fouant, Monique M. The skeletal biology and pathology of pre-Columbian Indians from northern Chile. Virginia Commonwealth Univ., 1984.
Freier, Michelle Cyd. Psychological and physiological influences on birth outcomes among women of Mexican origin or descent. Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1987.
Fry, Douglas P. An ethological study of aggression and aggression socialization among Zapotec children of Oaxaca, Mexico. Univ. of Indiana, 1986.
Goforth, Lynnel. Household structure and birth attendant choice in a Yucatec Maya community. Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1988.
Guarda, Nilda P. Severity of iron deficiency anemia and its relationship to growth and morbidity in a population of pre-schoolers in rural Guatemala. Univ. of Texas at Houston, 1984.
Harrison, Mary L. Factors affecting breeding group formation in two species of New World primates. Kent State Univ., 1987.
Hess, Salinda. Domestic medicine and indigenous medical systems in Haiti. McGill Univ., 1984.
Kelly, Jane. Blood pressure in juvenile Yucatec Maya. Univ. of Southern Illinois, 1986.
Kim, Myung-hye. Female labor force participation and household reproduction in urban Mexico. Univ. of Texas, 1987.
Leavitt, Ronnis Linda. Health beliefs and behaviors of families with disabled children in rural Jamaica. Univ. of Connecticut, 1988.
Leonard, William. Nutritional adaptation and dietary change in the South Peruvian Andes. Univ. of Michigan, 1987.
Levitch, Linda. The evolutionary history of the marmosets. Univ. of Washington, 1987.
Mignon, Molly Raymond. Maya animal protein procurement and utilization: an assessment of the ethnohistoric evidence. Simon Fraser Univ., 1988.
Mota, Clarice Novaes. As Jurema told us: Kariri-Shoko and Shoko mode of utilization of medicinal plants in the context of modern Northeastern Brazil. Univ. of Texas, 1987.
Morgan, Lynn M. The politics of primary health care in Costa Rica. Univ. of California, 1987.
Ndubuisi, Samuel. Nuptiality patterns in Jamaica: an increment-decrement life table analysis. Howard Univ., 1986.
Pollock, Donald. Personhood and illness among the Culina of Western Brazil. Univ. of Rochester, 1985.
Richards, Michael F. Seasonal labor migration and physiological risk in a Guatemalan community. Univ. of Wisconsin, 1987.
Saint-Louis, Loretta Jane Prichard. Migration evolves: network process and form in Haiti, the United States and Canada. Boston Univ., 1988.
Singleton, Nancy. Interpersonal transaction and health care choice in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. Southern Methodist Univ., 1985.
Stonich, Susan C. Development and destruction: interrelated ecological, socioeconomic, and nutritional change in southern Honduras. Univ. of Kentucky, 1986.
Verano, John William. Cranial microvariation at Pacatnamu: a study of cemetery population variability. Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1987.
Wilbert, Werner. Warao herbal medicine: a pneumatic history of illness and healing. Univ. of California, Los Angeles, 1986.

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