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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Health and Nutrition in Pre-Columbian America

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  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

Lack of evidence has been the major obstacle to understanding trends and differences in human welfare over the millennia. This paper explains and applies methods that are obscure to most academics and essentially unknown to the general public. A millennial perspective is best obtained from skeletal remains, which depict not only childhood health conditions but also processes of degeneration that accompany aging and strenuous physical effort. Compiled into an index of health, data from 23 localities as part of a large collaborative project on the Western Hemisphere reveal diverse health conditions for the pre-Columbian population. For reasons not yet understood populations moved over time into less healthy ecological environments. The analysis has implications for understanding environmental determinants of health, the pattern of European conquest, pre-contact population size, investigating human adaptation to climate change, and discovering prime movers of very long-term economic growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard H. Steckel, 2004. "The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: Health and Nutrition in Pre-Columbian America," NBER Working Papers 10299, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10299
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w10299.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jones Charles I., 2001. "Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-45, August.
    2. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "A theory of technophysio evolution, with some implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(1), pages 49-66, February.
    3. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 2002. "Malthus to Solow," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1205-1217, September.
    4. Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2001. "Tropical Underdevelopment," NBER Working Papers 8119, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
    6. Michael J. Boskin, 1998. "Consumer Prices, the Consumer Price Index, and the Cost of Living," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(1), pages 3-26, Winter.
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    Cited by:

    1. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2004. "Natural Selection and the Evolution of Life Expectancy," GE, Growth, Math methods 0409004, EconWPA.

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    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General

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