Pursuit of Famine: Investigating Famine in Bioarchaeological Literature.
This article aims to review how the term "famine" has been used in bioarchaeological publications over the past two decades (1996-2016) from three major journals: American Journal of Physical Anthropology, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, and Journal of Archaeological Science. Our goal is to understand the multitude of ways bioarchaeologists situate the concept of famine in the past as a large-scale event as well as how frequently famine is incorporated into bioarchaeological research questions.
Bioarchaeologists play an important role in understanding events that affected the health of past populations, mainly through identifying pathophysiological signs in human skeletal material that indicate a departure from homeostasis, including nutritional deficiencies. New publications have highlighted the complexities inherent in studying famine as a calamitous event with intersecting biological and social factors (e.g., Geber and Murphy 2012; Yaussy et al. 2016). However, "famine" has often been used in bioarchaeological publications without this same level of detail to contextualize this type of occurrence as a sociopolitical phenomenon or to show how past populations were affected holistically. This disjunction may reflect the problems in investigating famine in the past as well as the difficulties in identifying the specific causative factors for abnormal health and nutritional stress in past groups. A primary objective in the development of bioarchaeological theory therefore should be to reflect on the language chosen in shaping research foci. This clarification will aid in highlighting what kinds of evidence we can pursue through the archaeological record to examine the deleterious consequences of famine conditions; it may also indicate how bioarchaeology as a discipline can provide unique insight into reconstructing historical famines.
If social scientists can come to a consensus on the definition of famine, we can design a research program to understand the operating forces that create, perpetuate, exacerbate, or alleviate periods of famine. A coherent set of guidelines for declaring famine would assist modern and future efforts to pinpoint which regions are most vulnerable to full-scale famines in situations of political upheaval and identify preemptive strategies that might curb economic and social disruptions in communities suffering prolonged. Applying these same kinds of contemporary social, political, and economic factors in investigations of past populations, on the other hand, can better serve to illuminate social conditions in the past through bioarchaeological analysis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) does not directly identify "famine" as one monolithic condition; instead, it addresses the multiple facets that can occur from famine as "complex emergencies" (Wisner and Adams 2002). This terminology recognizes the similarities in the social, health, and political consequences of crises, whether natural or political in origin. The United Nations, on the other hand, has a set of standards under the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) for the official recognition of famine events. These criteria include a minimum of 20% of households facing food shortages, global acute malnutrition rates exceeding 30%, and crude death rates exceeding 2 per 10,000 per day (Salama et al. 2012). The IPC for famine is limited in its applications, as these criteria are established on malnutrition levels in a living population without consideration of sociopolitical factors; they also discount the health statuses of migrating individuals and those who die prior to the study.
Despite the ubiquity of severe conditions that can affect a society's ability to secure food resources, numerous variables dictate whether or not a famine will be officially declared by the United Nations and affected governments. The complexities of these variables can be gleaned from the inconsistent terminology ascribed to famines or famine-like conditions and from the lack of a centralized list of major famines by international health bodies such as the WHO. These standards alone may not be suitable in examining archaeological populations, especially when the mortality patterns of famine-afflicted communities are compounded by infectious diseases and other physiological stresses that act as the primary agents of death during famines.
Part of the difficulty in examining what makes up "famine" is the broad vocabulary that is used within scholastic literature, often interchangeably without providing proper context for what these terms specifically refer to. In academic publications, certain terms are employed in reference to "famine" to denote the nuances present in famine conditions. These terms may not necessarily be mutually exclusive, and they can often overlap during famine events.
* Food deprivation: insufficient availability of food sources to sustain an individual (Murton 2000:1413).
* Food insecurity: inability for a household to have "reliable access to food in sufficient quantity and quality to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle" (Hadley and Crooks 2012:72).
* Food shortage: insufficient food supply to meet the needs of a community (Murton 2000:1413).
* Malnutrition: poor nutritional status resulting from dietary intake either above or below that which is optimal (Smolin and Grosvenor 2003:G10).
* Starvation: (1) reduced access to necessary food sources for an individual (Sen 1981).
Some of these concepts may not manifest in physically recognizable ways in the human skeleton, which is typically the only evidence available to bioarchaeologists on the extent of famine conditions in archaeological populations. This is especially true in cases lacking historical documentation to corroborate any biological evidence of past events. A combined approach allows bioarchaeologists to examine famine as a large-scale event situated in historical contexts, but other aspects of food deprivation are still possible to explore in prehistoric or ahistoric archaeological populations.
Components of Famine
The multi-dimensional aspects that contribute to the creation of famine conditions are divided into five categories in this article, highlighting the complexity in identifying famines even in modern-day crises with direct witnesses and extensive documentation: ecological, political, economic, cultural, and demographic. Figure 1 illustrates the intricate relationships between these non-biological factors in the development of famine conditions. For instance, the hierarchical structures that are dependent on socioeconomic stratification exist in agricultural societies, making it difficult to project these same factors onto hunter-gatherer or other subsistence-based societies. Without evidence that can help demarcate social divisions in the archaeological record, it may not be feasible to determine many of the integral elements of famine impact in certain past communities. As well, the trigger for many famines is an ecological disaster, such as drought, that affects staple food sources (e.g., Somalia [2010-2011], Sudan , Ethiopia , China [1958-1961], North Korea [1994-1998]) and crop harvests (e.g., Great Irish Famine in 1845). However, the occurrence of these ecological changes alone may not determine whether a population undergoes a famine, as access to available food sources can be affected by external demographic or political factors. Famine conditions, therefore, are dependent on the sociopolitical stability of the affected communities.
Primarily, areas that are undergoing political turmoil are more vulnerable to disturbances to food security and food accessibility. This strife can come as a result of ongoing violent conflict or changes to government structures. Domestic and foreign aid can be prevented from reaching affected communities, exacerbating the initial food shortage. This political instability further contributes to economic downturns with a reduced labor force, decreased productivity, and inflated food prices as resources become scarce. Unusually high rates of death and migration are a consequence of famine, as are decreased birth rates (e.g., Stewart Fotheringham et al. 2013). These demographic trends can have long-lasting ramifications, even after famine ends, because of an overall population loss. With these factors in play, cultural coping mechanisms against food insecurity may be disrupted, affecting the ability for communities to maintain social cohesion in light of food loss. The ways in which sociopolitical relationships can affect cultural norms demonstrate the importance in understanding which communities are most vulnerable to losing access to food and resources as well as how these cultural changes can have ripple effects on the physical and mental health of the afflicted populations.
Famine's Impacts on Marginalized Groups
A critical component of properly contextualizing the sociopolitical implications of famine is understanding which specific demographics are most affected by famine conditions. Social factors such as age, gender, and status influence which members of an afflicted community are most likely to suffer as a result of food shortages and deleterious living conditions.
Mortality trends that relate to age, gender, and status can be seen in numerous documented examples of famine. Children, especially infants, are considered to be the most vulnerable members of affected communities (Murton 2000). During the famine of 1984-1986 in Darfur, Sudan, more than half of deaths related to famine conditions occurred in children under the age of four (de Waal 1989), and the highest rates of mortality were found in children in displaced refugee camps during the 1985-1986 famine in Ethiopia (Lindtjorn 1990). Elderly individuals are also more likely to perish during famines (Chen and Chowdhury 1977; de Waal 1989). These patterns follow typical demographic bell curves (Morgan 2013). However, these two age groups have elevated numbers of "excess deaths" compared to mortality rates of pre-famine periods (Murton 2000; Watkins and Menken 1985). The pattern of deaths reflects how famine conditions disproportionately affect the most physiologically and economically vulnerable members of a stricken population.
Women can be disproportionately affected during famines as a result of biological and cultural factors. Because of the energy demands on their bodies, pregnant or lactating women are particularly susceptible to starvation or to diseases that spread more quickly during crisis periods (Murton 2000). The loss of fertile females, coupled with decreased fecundity as a result of disruptions to typical reproductive behaviors and nutritional acquisition (Murton 2000), can have a severe impact on a community's post-famine demographic recovery (Watkins and Menken 1985). However, other researchers have suggested that because physiological differences in fat storage between females and males, males are less protected against deleterious consequences of food insecurity and thus suffer high rates of mortality during famine conditions (Morgan 2013; Yaussy et al. 2016). As a result, gender- and sex-based patterns in frailty during famine periods may be context-specific and should not be considered universally applicable in all famine cases.
Cultural norms can influence the degree to which women, children, and elders are affected by food shortages. In many areas around the world, patriarchal norms prioritize men in holding dominant economic and social positions. This can result in the expectation that women will defer limited food supplies to the males in their families, with sons taking precedence over daughters in receiving food (Murton 2000). For the benefit of male family members, women and female children can be pushed further into destitution through "neglect, starvation, abandonment, and sale into prostitution" (Murton 2000:1419). All of these factors raise the risk of exposure to communicable diseases, which are often the ultimate cause of death rather than starvation itself (Figure 1).
The stress of food insecurity and limited food accessibility can trigger social tensions within a population, often with people in power encouraging malcontent to be directed toward scapegoats in lieu of addressing the actual breakdowns in food acquisition. Usually, these scapegoats are disenfranchised communities within a larger population, such as ethnic or religious minorities. For example, ethnic minorities such as the Reewin and the Bantu were disproportionately affected in Somalia during 2010-2011 (Majid and McDowell 2012) as a result of geopolitical isolation.
Material and Methods
To obtain an overview of how famine has been employed by bioarchaeologists and changes in use of the term through time, publications between 1996 and 2016 from three major journals were investigated: American Journal of Physical Anthropology (AJPA), International Journal of Osteology (IJO), and Journal of Archaeological Science (JAS). These journals were selected because they have a clear peer-review process ensuring that content reflects current best practice and for their broad accessibility to international bioarchaeological researchers. For the purposes of this article, a North American application of the term "bioarchaeology" will be employed; only articles that focused on human skeletal and dental remains were included in this review to provide a uniform framework for bioarchaeological research. IJO is the most recently established of the three journals, founded in 1991. To ensure consistency, we selected articles from all three journals to cover a span of the past 20 years, from 1996 to 2016. This timeframe ensures that our sample will capture the broad range of topics and methodologies employed by the authors over a synchronic period for which all three journals could be sampled (see Table 1).
The AJPA has by far the broadest scope of the three journals we sampled. It encompasses a variety of relevant bioanthropological topics including human evolution, paleodemography, bioarchaeology, and paleopathology. The IJO currently focuses on articles relating to osteological analysis of archaeological material. The JAS publishes articles that pursue technical and methodological developments within archaeology.
From each journal, articles that included the term "famine" within the text were examined for how the term was employed and whether or not the term was itself defined. Articles were omitted if they only used the word "famine" to reference a specific historical event, such as the Great Irish Famine, without any further context of what a famine constitutes. Four general, interrelated frameworks were considered in defining famine, but each covers different aspects of how a famine affects a population. Articles were reviewed to determine how the word "famine" was used, and each usage was scored for every article. Articles could be classified as using the term in more than one way. Numerous articles used the term "famine" in more than one way, so the number of articles in each category may not equal the total number of articles from each journal that defined "famine" (see Table 2).
The first type of classification relates to famine as an environmental disaster in itself or as a consequence of an ecological change. The second category of famine describes starvation for an acute period of time. Starvation might be directly related to an ecological disaster, such as crop failure, or to social imbalances. A third category of famine dealt with physiological consequences of malnutrition or reduced nutritional intake. These studies often examined osteological stress markers in populations that could be directly or indirectly linked to historically known famines. A fourth category referred to food shortages or disruptions to food acquisition that affect communities en masse. Outside of these four categories, other articles used the term "famine" when discussing catastrophic events that affected population demographics, identifying substandard food sources as "famine foods," or treating famine as a source of stress affecting immune responses to diseases and infections. Such articles were classified as "other." These articles fell outside the other four categories, as no context for what "famine" meant in relation to food consumption was provided.
Results and Discussion
The majority of articles that included the word or concept of "famine" were published between 2011 and 2016: 53.6% of those published in AJPA, 77.8% of those in IJO, and 69.2% of those in JAS. Articles that did not contextualize the term "famine" in relation to the research objectives were deemed to not be using the term as a central part of the research undertaken. Although the term "famine" appeared in a total of 58 bioarchaeological articles in the three journals, 64.3% (18/28) of articles in AJPA, 100% (17/17) of those in IJO, and 69.2% (9/13) of those in JAS did not include famine analysis in their research goals. This is related to the frequency in which the term "famine" was used in each reviewed article. In AJPA, 57.1% of selected articles used the term only once, along with 82.4% in IJO and 61.5% in JAS having singular appearances of "famine" in the entire article text.
In AJPA, "famine" was most commonly used to refer to malnutrition or nutritional stress as consequences of famine; 42.9% of the relevant articles used this perspective (Table 3). Three other specific categories also had sizable representation: 17.9% of the articles referred to "famine" as an event of mass starvation, 14.3% situated "famine" as food shortage or insecurity, and 25.0% had "famine" as a type of ecological disaster. Nearly one-third (9/28) of the AJPA articles used "famine" outside of these classifications, with such examples as relating famines to events that could affect immunological responses to infections and diseases, or as catastrophes that affected demographic mortality profiles. Six articles out of 28 (21.4%) had multiple categorizations of "famine," accounting for the large representation of each category, as well as demonstrating how famine is a complex crisis composed of various ecological, social, and biological factors.
Articles in IJO (Table 4) were more likely to use the term "famine" to refer to food shortage/insecurity (29.4%), malnutrition or nutritional stress (35.3%), and other perspectives (29.4%). Three articles approached "famine" as an ecological disaster (17.6%), and one (5.9%) ascribed "famine" to mass starvation. Only two articles had multiple ways of contextualizing "famine."
The focus on famine in JAS articles (Table 5) fell mainly between ecological disaster (23.1%) and other classifications (30.8%). "Famine" was considered to be an episode of malnutrition or nutritional stress in 23.1% of the articles; 15.4% of the articles also referred to "famine" as periods of food shortage or insecurity, and an additional 15.4% contextualized "famine" as mass starvation.
The recent increase in research incorporating the term "famine" may reflect the development of new techniques relevant to bioarchaeological interests, particularly advances in genetic and stable isotope analysis; this trend is also noted by Stojanowski and Buikstra (2005) in their overview of AJPA research topics. Consequently, we see the present literature review as fitting within the current trend by bioarchaeologists to deconstruct the usage of and, more specifically, the definition of terms such as "stress" and "health" (e.g., Klaus 2014; Reitsema and Kyle McIlvaine 2014).
The lack of a consistent definition for "famine" in bioarchaeology has led to a discrepancy in the way the term was employed by various researchers. The primary focus has not been a socioeconomic perspective, although a number of other social sciences have begun to regard this as a principal consideration, one that modern aid and health agencies regularly employ (Hillbruner and Moloney 2012; Lautze et al. 2012; Maxwell and Fitzpatrick 2012; Wisner and Adams 2002). This perspective may be more feasible to undertake in other social sciences, as many researchers in those fields have access to living populations who can provide insight into their personal experiences with famine. Bioarchaeological research does not require new methodologies to produce emergent features in the literature; recent publications (DeWitte 2015; Yaussy et al. 2016) have successfully focused on famine by carefully examining the terminology and applying different theoretical frameworks, without relying on methodologies that may be inaccessible or untested. This innovative approach in adopting new perspectives helps fine-tune how we examine the biocultural impacts of famine in ways that are easily achievable for bioarchaeologists.
Bioarchaeological investigations examine skeletal populations, and not all cases have access to written texts, which bring forth valuable information in reconstructing how past communities have struggled with starvation and food insecurity. It is more difficult to approach large-scale events such as famine without contextualizing documentation. The tendency for bioarchaeologists to rely on the physical markers of starvation or evidence of unusual dietary patterns in the skeleton may lead to incorrect diagnoses of famine or "famine conditions" in past populations, because biocultural stress markers associated with nutritional insufficiency can have a variety of causes, some of which have nothing to do with food sufficiency, such as parasitic infection or diarrheal disease. Consideration of biological features alongside explicit historical evidence has been the most secure way that bioarchaeology is used in reconstructing the circumstances leading to the loss of reliable food sources in historical populations that relied on agriculture. The importance of identifying these lines of evidence cannot be understated, but the inclusion of the term "famine" did not always directly contribute to the research goals of the articles analyzed for the purposes of this article. In examples where this happened in the literature review, the sociopolitical implications of famine were not addressed, rendering the mention of "famine" as either misleading or unnecessary in light of research intent.
In some cases, bioarchaeologists used the term "famine" as a synonym for natural disasters such as drought or environmental change (Walker et al. 2009) that resulted in greater risk of death. In this sense, the causes and effects of famine were blurred. The use of "famine" as a synonym for environmental disaster obfuscates the multitude of mechanisms triggering famines and ignores fruitful discussion of how different communities within a larger population may be differentially affected.
Other researchers, such as DeWitte (2015), situated famine as a result of larger ecological and climactic patterns in historical periods. The occurrence of famines during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was directly caused by cooling temperatures, with known social, political, and economic consequences stemming from these recorded famines. DeWitte relies on age-at-death analysis to determine mortality rates of populations known to have undergone famines. Because of this contextualization of significant historical events, DeWitte (2015) demonstrates the holistic application of the term "famine" and is able to purse insightful bioarchaeological investigations.
"Famine" has been used as a term to imply mass starvation for long periods of time, or periods of instability where mass starvation occurs (Geber and Murphy 2012; Hadley and Crooks 2012; Turner et al. 2012). In this way, "famine" is always linked to reduced food availability, most likely as a result of crop failure (Kendall et al. 2013), yet the contributions of social implications or additional factors to famine are not explored in all studies. Instead, "famine" is presented simply as a failure of crops that leads to mass starvation and inflated mortality rates. This simplification can misrepresent other causes of high mortality and many sociopolitical factors that arise from failed crops. Fundamental social factors, such as economic depression, inflation of food prices, and political instability, can contribute to crop failures becoming famines. These common variables can be seen in historically documented famines such as the Great Irish Famine (Crawford 1995; Kinealy 1995; O Grada 1995) and in more recent famines such as the 2010-2011 famine in Somalia (Hillbruner and Moloney 2012; Lautze et al. 2012; Salama et al. 2012). Threads of these complicated sociopolitical complexes can be seen in bioarchaeological studies published by Geber and Murphy (2012) and Geber (2014), which integrated valuable paleopathological data with documented evidence of the Great Irish Famine.
"Famine" was commonly used as a potential cause for skeletal evidence of biocultural stress (e.g., Guatelli-Steinberg and Lukacs 1999) or malnutrition. Theoretical approaches to studying famine in related disciplines demonstrate that while nutritional stress is a component of famine events, it is only one of many components of famine and should be examined in conjunction with other social factors beyond physiological disturbances. Yaussy et al. (2016) outline the complex ways in which all of these factors culminate, and the authors build upon this complexity to examine how these conditions manifest in demographic mortality trends by linking skeletal stress markers to historically significant events culminating around recorded famines. By using rigorously established chronologies in medieval London cemeteries alongside skeletal evidence, this study demonstrates how bioarchaeologists can capitalize on multidisciplinary analysis to further our knowledge of the realities past communities faced under catastrophic famines.
Reviewed articles that referred to nutritional deficiencies were more likely to focus on paleopathological analysis, attempting to relate the occurrence of metabolic diseases (Ellis 2015; Geber and Murphy 2012), enamel hypoplastic defects (Geber 2014; Slaus et al. 2011; Temple et al. 2012; Zadzinska et al. 2015), iron deficiency (Lovell 1997; Walker et al. 2009), and stunted growth (Ahlstrom 2011; Arcini et al. 2014; Geber 2014) to episodes of famine. However, this single-focus approach is often used in a sense that takes for granted its implied definition; most often, the reader is assumed to understand that famines result in populations having restricted access to typical food sources without explicitly defining these concepts.
The concept of "famine" as food shortages frames the loss of food resources as an inevitable consequence of major events, such as ecological disasters or warfare, that ultimately disrupted social norms or population demographics (Hadley and Crooks 2012). The biological impact of food shortages is implied to be deleterious. Often, studies focused on osteological stress markers (Ahlstrom 2011; Arcini et al. 2014; McEwan et al. 2005) without examining the implicit cause of these physiological disruptions. Except for specific historical famines, such as the Great Irish Famine (Geber and Murphy 2012) and the Dutch famine of World War II (Ahlstrom 2011), articles in this category rarely delved into the types of sociopolitical structures that would prevent individuals from accessing food during famine events. One article within this category focused on potential "famine foods" (Chroszcz et al. 2015) with the inference that during periods of reduced food accessibility, less desirable (or less nutritious) foods were consumed (Otero and Novellino 2011; Walker et al. 2009). Although the article by Hadley and Crooks (2012) was not reviewed for this article, as it was published in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, their theoretical review of the types of biosocial risks posed by modern famines acts as a rigorous template for bioarchaeologists to follow in seeking applications for past events.
A couple of less commonly used concepts of famine also appeared in a number of journal articles. These are categorized together as "other" in Table 2. The idea of "famine conditions" suggests chronic malnutrition that may not even be directly related to any event or disaster that could be determined as a famine following criteria outlined by current scholarship and health organizations. In this sense, "famine" is used as a synonym of malnutrition from periods of starvation, regardless of the actual causes of the nutritional insufficiency (Bernstein 2010; Ivanovsky 1923; Newman 1962). The use of "famine" as an event around which to measure demographic changes through death rates or migration (Kendall et al. 2013; Slaus et al. 2011; Turner et al. 2012) does not contribute any knowledge to the causes of famine or to the consequences of famine besides mortality.
A number of articles (Grauer and Roberts 1996; Lambert 2002; Radu et al. 2016; Santos and Roberts 2001) linked famine to decreased immunity to infectious diseases within the affected populations. In this context, famine was one type of event that affected the immunological responses of survivors to other deleterious conditions, but the underlying mechanism as to how famine contributed to physiological stress was not further elaborated. As a result of this ambiguous contextualization of the term "famine," these articles were categorized as "other."
Osteological Consequences of Famine Conditions
Building on the significant work that has started to integrate aspects of the full social and political consequences of famine situations at a population and transnational level, there are multiple lines of evidence that are employed to great effect. Nutritional stress that can come as a result of starvation or malnutrition is commonly explored in many archaeological populations as changes in skeletal development that can be directly associated with dietary changes. Bioarchaeological studies into famine have used stunted stature (DeWitte and Hughes-Morey 2012; Ortner 2003), the presence of linear enamel hypoplastic defects to reflect physiological stresses in childhood (Zhou and Corruccini 1998), and skeletal lesions associated with scurvy (Geber and Murphy 2012) as proxies for wider nutritional stress related to famine.
Famine-related diseases associated with deleterious food quality, such as diarrhea and dysentery (Geary 1995; Kinealy 1995), would affect the digestive tract and could result in rapid fatality. The lack of soft tissue and the inability for the body to recover from these diseases would rule out the possibility of identifying specific etiologies in the skeleton. Other infectious diseases that are most commonly linked to famines include smallpox, typhus fever, relapsing fever (Geary 1995; Kinealy 1995), measles (Connolly et al. 2004; Mahamud et al. 2013), malaria (Connolly et al. 2004), and cholera (Mokyr and O Grada 2002). These diseases are transmitted as a result of poor hygiene and living conditions that can occur during famines, but because they do not manifest in the skeleton, confirmation of their presence is limited to expensive and time-intensive aDNA analysis.
Historically verified famine populations could provide a reference from which to develop criteria necessary to identify other afflicted communities in the past. Geber and Murphy (2012; followed by Geber 2014) used a known population that lived during the Great Irish Famine (Kilkenny, Ireland) to determine the types of paleopathological markers that came as a result of famine conditions. The nutritional deficiencies expressed through scurvy (Geber and Murphy 2012), enamel hypoplasia, Harris lines, and stunted stature (Geber 2014) were used as evidence to infer physiological disruptions were direct consequences of famine. This approach focused on deductive evidence, demonstrating how individuals were biologically affected by an event that has its sociopolitical elements extensively documented.
Skeletal evidence for famine victims (or survivors) is contingent on a number of assumptions that tie certain maladies to the consequence of famine, such as severe malnutrition and exposure to infectious diseases. However, homogeneous application of famine conditions to an entire population sets up a false binary in which individuals displaying certain markers are assumed to have been famine victims, whereas those who do not share these osteological signs are exempt from the "famine population" (e.g., Beaumont et al. 2015). The osteological paradox may affect how famine victims are identified, as individuals who died during genuine famine events may not have developed any physiological stress markers related to their demise. This obscures the variability of physiological consequences of malnutrition and also amalgamates all individuals of an affected population, regardless of actual risk of starvation or cause of death. This base assumption is layered with multiple issues in terms of extrapolating famine as the underlying cause rather than verifying the presence of a historically confirmed famine through physical evidence. Simply, severe malnutrition is not limited to widespread food shortages that may come as a result of famine. Likewise, many of the infectious diseases that make up a large portion of famine mortality either do not manifest skeletally or are direct consequences of poor living conditions rather than malnutrition and/or sudden loss of food sources.
Biochemical Evidence of Famine Conditions
Recent studies utilizing stable isotope analysis have demonstrated that elevated levels of [[delta].sup.15]N can indicate maternal and neonatal physiological stress levels (Beaumont et al. 2015). Aberrant [14/15sup (.)N] ratios can result from conditions of food insecurity (e.g., Wheeler et al. 2013), potentially acting as another line of evidence for famine conditions.
Changes in stable food items could be reflected in nitrogen and carbon levels through isotopic analysis (Beaumont and Montgomery 2016; Gil et al. 2014; Reynard et al. 2011; Turner et al. 2012). As demonstrated during the Great Irish Famine, the collapse of the potato crop produced acute changes to culturally defined dietary practices. Those affected by the crop failure had to rely on less familiar food sources, such as Indian corn and nettles, or on deleterious foods, such as diseased potatoes or carrion (Crawford 1995). Typical isotopic levels would have to be preestablished within the examined population in order to determine dietary changes. Issues of bone turnover and average values being represented in bone collagen can also affect the practicality of using stable isotope analysis to examine acute occurrences of famine. This amount of detail over different time periods may not be possible in all cases and could conflate individual variation or cultural differences within the group with abrupt changes in diets as a result of sudden natural disasters such as drought, flooding, or crop failures.
Other Evidence for Famine
The culminating factors that can occur from famine can be investigated in bioarchaeology through telltale skeletal changes that can reflect poor nutritional intake and other repercussions attributed to famine. Stable isotope differences (Beaumont et al. 2013; Kendall et al. 2013; Turner et al. 2012) and genetic drift (Adachi et al. 2004; Relethford et al. 1997) have been examined in certain populations as an attempt to trace migratory patterns as a response to famine conditions. Migrants can be detected by observing atypical levels of strontium and oxygen isotopic signatures within past communities (Turner et al. 2012). Carbon and nitrogen isotopes can also be analyzed to differentiate local from migrant diets (Turner et al. 2012). However, the presence of migrants in a local community in itself cannot be used as direct evidence for famine in the originating population.
The inclusion of zooarchaeological and faunal remains associated with human communities is another line of evidence available for bioarchaeologists. Two zooarchaeological articles from JAS (Byrd et al. 2013; Germonpre et al. 2012) and one from IJO (Chroszcz et al. 2015) that were not included in the literature review focused on butchered canid remains, leading to the idea that canids may have been consumed in response to food insecurity. Neither article definitively concluded whether their samples were related to periods of famine. One article published in AJPA focused on stable isotopic analysis in pigs in a controlled environment to determine how growth rate factors are related to tissue isotopic fractionation (Warinner and Tuross 2010). Although famine was not included as a focal point of this study, the results are important in demonstrating how stable isotope analysis on faunal remains shows poor diets and their subsequent impact on growth rates of both domesticated animals and humans. Changes in mortality profiles of livestock and the stunted development of animals after a famine period are other possible ways for bioarchaeologists and zooarchaeologists to note large-scale changes in food accessibility.
The efforts to interpret potential famines in the past through archaeological investigations can incorporate additional elements outside of the skeleton (Morgan 2013). Environmental reconstruction can aid in identifying periods of drought or climatic changes through archaeological evidence, dendrochronology, palynology, and stable isotope geochemistry (Me-Bar and Valdez 2003, 2005). As demonstrated in Ireland and Somalia, repeated periods of drought preceded the major famines in both countries without rising to the same devastation (Daly 1995; Lautze et al. 2012). What is missing in reconstructing environmental conditions are the sociopolitical elements that have no basis on climate yet ultimately influence the extent of food security and outcomes of famine.
This article intends to begin a conversation in bioarchaeology about famine, its definition, skeletal correlates, and potential isotopic signatures. It has been our goal to stimulate further discussion about different bioarchaeological approaches to "famine" and, particularly, to emphasize the importance of examining famine as a multi-layered sociopolitical complex. Because bioarchaeologists are interested in reconstructing health and dietary anomalies in past populations, the field would benefit from attention to external factors that have an impact on food quantity, availability, and nutritional quality. Relationships with other communities and internal social discrepancies affect regular access to food resources; changes in these social relationships can exacerbate periods of environmental fluctuation and could be the deciding factor between a seasonal shortage of food and a severe crisis. Since famine can be related to other stressful conditions, such as violence, disease epidemics, and destabilizing migrations, the diagnosis of famine in the archaeological record can erroneously suggest other complicated social elements that may not be observable with available evidence and may bias the reconstruction of the studied population. Other disciplines situate famine as a multiplicity of recognized components that may not appear in bioarchaeological evidence. This could lead to difficulties in drawing cross-disciplinary comparisons between modern communities affected by famine conditions and historical communities that have suffered in the past.
Individual lines of evidence can be examined in archaeological populations to suggest famine as one potential outcome. It is suggested that bioarchaeologists focus on the possibility of investigating severe malnutrition or starvation in osteological collections rather than categorizing the evidence of these conditions as manifestations of famine, as inconsistent definitions of the term may end up hampering accurate reconstruction of past famine events. Stable isotope analysis can be used to track demographic disruptions through migrations or sudden changes in dietary resources. Pathogens that often accompany deleterious social conditions as a result of famine can be identified through aDNA. Through paleoclimate analysis and determining the occurrences of past droughts, archaeologists can help reconstruct unfavourable environmental conditions and complex social networks with other communities that can coincide with deleterious health conditions to develop a better understanding of past populations.
Although bioarchaeologists are primarily concerned with studying the past, theoretical developments coupled with methodological advances in uncovering famines can be utilized for modern applications. Bioarchaeologists, as part of a broad scholastic body incorporating biological science with social studies, collaborate with other disciplines to address current and future issues plaguing human populations. With climate change sparking ecological disasters at a faster rate, communities across the globe are becoming increasingly susceptible to large-scale crises that will charge fraught sociopolitical dynamics. By examining the culmination of physical markers, bioarchaeological researchers can follow the repercussions of full-scale disasters in historically identified famines. The application of this knowledge can help to predict and may aid in preventing similar consequences from developing in the future.
This article began as a paper presented at the special session "Strange Bodies, Familiar Divides: Embodiments of Otherness" at the 2015 American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Denver, Colorado. We extend our gratitude to John J. Crandall and Dr. Pamela K. Stone for organizing the session and to all the session participants and audience members for their helpful feedback.
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(1.) This definition of "starvation" follows literature used by the medical sciences. Bioarchaeologists, however, rely on physiological markers as evidence for starvation, thus osteological manifestations of starvation reflect extreme duress. This discrepancy can account for the various ways in which different social sciences understand starvation.
Kalyna Horocholyn, (a*) and Megan B. Brickley (a)
(a) Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
(*) Correspondence to: Kalyna Horocholyn, Chester New Hall, Room 521, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street W., Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4L9
Submitted 09 February 2017
Revised 08 April 2017
Accepted 03 June 2017
Table 1. Number of Bioarchaeological Papers Published in Three Major Anthropological Journals Including the Term "Famine," 1996-2016 Year of Publication AJPA (1) IJO (2) JAS (3) 1996-2000 6 2 0 2001-2005 5 1 2 2006-2010 2 1 1 2011-2016 15 13 9 Total published 28 17 13 (1.) AJPA: American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2.) IJO: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (3.) JAS: Journal of Archaeological Science Table 2. Use of the Term "Famine" in Three Major Anthropological Journals, 1996-2016 Ecological Mass Nutritional Journal Total Articles Disaster Starvation Stress AJPA (1) 28 7 (25.0%) 5 (17.9%) 12 (42.9%) IJO (2) 17 3 (17.6%) 1 (5.9%) 6 (35.3%) JAS (3) 13 3 (23.1%) 2 (15.4%) 3 (23.1%) Total 58 13 (22.4%) 8 (13.8%) 20 (34.5%) Famine-Focused Journal Food Shortage Other Research AJPA (1) 4 (14.3%) 9 (32.1%) 10 (35.7%) IJO (2) 5 (29.4%) 5 (29.4%) 0 (0%) JAS (3) 2 (15.4%) 4 (30.8%) 4 (30.8%) Total 12 (20.7%) 18 (31.0%) 14 (24.1%) Percentile points relate to proportion of articles within one journal using a given definition. Total row includes the proportion of articles using a given definition across all three journals. (1.) AJPA: American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2.) IJO: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (3.) JAS: Journal of Archaeological Science Table 3. Use of the Term "Famine" in American Journal of Physical Anthropology Articles, 1996-2016 Definitions of "Famine" Ecological Mass Nutritional Authors Disaster Starvation Stress Grauer and Roberts 1996 Malville 1997 X Irish and Turner 1997 X Guatelli-Steinberg and Lukacs 1999 X Lovell and Whyte 1999 X X Paine 2000 Santos and Roberts 2001 Lazenby 2002 X Lambert 2002 Margerison and Knusel 2002 Ortner et al. 2001 X Walker et al. 2009 X Lewis 2010 Geber and Murphy 2012 X X Beaumont et al. 2013 X Kendall et al. 2013 X Geber 2014 X X X Kaupova et al. 2014 Beaumont et al. 2015 X DeWitte 2015 X X Gowland 2015 X Tsutaya et al. 2015 Zadzinska et al. 2015 Yaussy et al. 2016 X X X Eleazar and Jankauskas 2016 X Vigeant et al. 2016 X Houldcroft and Underdown 2016 Scott et al. 2016 Total 7 5 12 % (N/28) 25.0 17.9 42.9 Number of Mentions Authors Food Shortage Other 1 2 + Grauer and Roberts 1996 X X Malville 1997 X Irish and Turner 1997 X Guatelli-Steinberg and Lukacs 1999 X Lovell and Whyte 1999 X Paine 2000 X X Santos and Roberts 2001 X X Lazenby 2002 X Lambert 2002 X X Margerison and Knusel 2002 X X Ortner et al. 2001 X Walker et al. 2009 X Lewis 2010 X X Geber and Murphy 2012 X Beaumont et al. 2013 X Kendall et al. 2013 X Geber 2014 X Kaupova et al. 2014 X X Beaumont et al. 2015 X DeWitte 2015 X Gowland 2015 X Tsutaya et al. 2015 X X Zadzinska et al. 2015 X X Yaussy et al. 2016 X X Eleazar and Jankauskas 2016 X X Vigeant et al. 2016 X Houldcroft and Underdown 2016 X X Scott et al. 2016 X X Total 4 9 16 12 % (N/28) 14.3 32.1 57.1 42.9 Table 4. Use of the Term "Famine" in International Journal of Osteoarchaeology Articles, 1996-2016 Definitions of "Famine" Ecological Mass Nutritional Food Authors Disaster Starvation Stress Shortage Lovell 1997 X Ogilvie and Hilton 2000 McEwan et al. 2005 X Cucina et al. 2006 X Ahlstrom 2011 X X Otero and Novellino 2011 X Slaus et al. 2011 Arcini et al. 2014 X X X Beauchesne and Agarwal 2014 X Ellis 2015 X Jones et al. 2015 Krakowka 2015 Meyer and Steyn 2016 X Radu et al. 2016 Santana-Cabrera et al. 2016 X Scott 2016 X Nakayama 2016 X Total 3 1 6 5 % (N/17) 17.6 5.88 35.3 29.4 Number of Mentions Ecological Authors Other 1 2+ Lovell 1997 X Ogilvie and Hilton 2000 X X McEwan et al. 2005 X Cucina et al. 2006 X Ahlstrom 2011 X Otero and Novellino 2011 X Slaus et al. 2011 X X Arcini et al. 2014 X Beauchesne and Agarwal 2014 X Ellis 2015 X Jones et al. 2015 X X Krakowka 2015 X X Meyer and Steyn 2016 X Radu et al. 2016 X X Santana-Cabrera et al. 2016 X Scott 2016 X Nakayama 2016 X Total 5 14 3 % (N/17) 29.4 82.4 17.6 Table 5. Use of the Term "Famine" in Journal of Archaeological Science Articles, 1996-2016 Definitions of "Famine" Ecological Mass Nutritional Authors Disaster Starvation Stress Adachi et al. 2004 X Schwarcz and White 2004 Reinhard and Danielson 2005 Finucane 2007 X Eerkens et al. 2011 X Kacki et al. 2011 X Muldner et al. 2011 Reynard et al. 2011 DeWitte and Hughes-Morey 2012 X Temple et al. 2012 X Turner et al. 2012 X Gil et al. 2014 X Tromp and Dudgeon 2015 Total 3 2 3 % (N/13) 23.1 15.4 23.1 Number of Mentions Authors Food Shortage Other 1 2+ Adachi et al. 2004 X Schwarcz and White 2004 X X Reinhard and Danielson 2005 X X Finucane 2007 X Eerkens et al. 2011 X Kacki et al. 2011 X Muldner et al. 2011 X X Reynard et al. 2011 X X DeWitte and Hughes-Morey 2012 X Temple et al. 2012 X Turner et al. 2012 X X Gil et al. 2014 X Tromp and Dudgeon 2015 X X Total 2 4 8 5 % (N/13) 15.4 30.8 61.5 38.5
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|Author:||Horocholyn, Kalyna; Brickley, Megan B.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2017|
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