Paleo-Indian Archaic Woodland Mississippian European Contact

Mississippian Health

Work, Corn, Status, and Meat

Wild plant foods were important to Mississippians, but cultivated crops - squash, corn, and for the first time, beans - were the mainstays in their diet. Terrestrial animals were still major sources of protein, but now aquatic animals, particularly fish were the major source of protein. Large storage pits offset seasonal food shortages of late winter and early spring.

Although food production and living in towns near agricultural fields helped offset seasonal food shortages, it had a biological cost: the heavy reliance on starchy foods like corn and the high population densities of larger towns may have led to malnutrition and encouraged the spread of diseases.

Infant mortality was high. Horizontal linear defects in the teeth (enamel hypoplasia) and leg bones (harris lines) of many individuals indicate a slowing of body growth and reflect times of dietary stress during adolescence. Cavities, reflecting an increase in sugars in the diet from corn and other starchy foods, were common. Boney growths on vertebrae of many people indicate, that like today, arthritis was a common affliction of old age.

Paleo-Indian Archaic Woodland Mississippian European Contact