Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Standing Tall: Plains Indians Enjoyed Height, Health Advantage

Date:
May 29, 2001
Source:
Ohio State University
Summary:
Equestrian Indian tribes on the American Plains in the late 1800s were the tallest people in the world, suggesting that they were surprisingly well-nourished given disease and their lifestyle, a new study found.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Equestrian Indian tribes on the American Plains in the late 1800s were the tallest people in the world, suggesting that they were surprisingly well-nourished given disease and their lifestyle, a new study found.

These results contradict the modern image of American Indians as being sickly victims succumbing to European disease, said Richard Steckel, co-author of the study and professor of economics and anthropology at Ohio State University.

"What these height data show is the ingenuity and adaptability of the equestrian Plains tribes in the face of remarkable stress from disease and hardship," Steckel said.

The average adult male Plains Indian stood 172.6 centimeters tall -- about 5 feet 8 inches. The next tallest people in the world at that time were Australian men, who averaged 172 centimeters. European American men of the time averaged 171 centimeters tall, and men living in European countries were typically several centimeters shorter.

Steckel conducted the study with Joseph Prince, ananthropologist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Their results were published in a recent issue of The American Economic Review.

Steckel and Prince used recently discovered data collected by Franz Boas, one of the founders of American anthropology. Boas collected and analyzed data from several thousand Native Americans during the late 1800s as part of research he was doing for the Columbian Exposition, a fair held in Chicago from May to October 1893.

The researchers used data from 1,123 Indians from eight equestrian Plains tribes, including the Cheyenne, Sioux, Blackfeet and Comanche.

Steckel has conducted a variety of studies using stature as an alternative way of measuring the standard of living and overall health. Average height is a good way of measuring health in populations, he said, especially nutritional status, as determined by diet minus claims on the diet made by work and by disease. Genetic differences that are important in the heights of individuals approximately cancel in determining the average heights of entire populations.

This study shows that despite the many technological advantages that the European-American settlers had over the American Indians, the Plains tribes enjoyed better health, at least nutritionally.

"The modern perception that Native Americans were hapless and in poor health probably comes from the era at the turn of the century when Indians were put on reservations," Steckel said. "Native Americans often did suffer high rates of tuberculosis and other manifestations of poor health on the reservations, but they weren't always that way."

While the reasons for the general good health of the Plains Indians, compared to whites, has not been extensively studied, Steckel said several plausible theories exist. For one, the Plains Indians ate a varied diet that included a variety of native plants, as well as buffalo and other game that typically roamed the Great Plains, Steckel said.

Moreover, the equestrian Plains tribes were widely spread out and very mobile, meaning they didn't live in one area long enough to accumulate the wastes and parasites that could become a threat to public health, Steckel said.

American Indians did suffer from devastating epidemics such as smallpox that killed significant numbers of people, Steckel said. But the tribes took steps to minimize the effects of these epidemics, such as splitting up the tribe when the illnesses started, which helped stop the spread. Also, they were adept at reorganizing their small bands following deaths from epidemics.

Steckel said American Indians also lived in egalitarian societies that provided a strong safety net for the disadvantaged in their tribes, meaning that no one went hungry or uncared for.

In contrast to these advantages that American Indians enjoyed, many whites living in cities - particularly the poor - couldn't afford food for a healthy and complete diet. These large cities and towns were densely packed and lacked modern sanitary practices, meaning they were breeding grounds for disease. In addition, many poor had no safety net to help them in times of need and suffered from a lack of proper nutrition and medical care, Steckel said.

"The Plains Indians had a remarkable record of nutritional and health success, despite the enormous pressures they were under," Steckel said. "They developed a healthy lifestyle that the white Americans couldn't match, even with all of their technological advantages."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ohio State University. "Standing Tall: Plains Indians Enjoyed Height, Health Advantage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010529071125.htm>.
Ohio State University. (2001, May 29). Standing Tall: Plains Indians Enjoyed Height, Health Advantage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010529071125.htm
Ohio State University. "Standing Tall: Plains Indians Enjoyed Height, Health Advantage." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010529071125.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Newsy (Aug. 15, 2014) A mother and son in Alaska uncovered woolly mammoth tusks in the same river more than two decades apart. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Newsy (Aug. 14, 2014) Newly found fossils reveal a previously unknown species of flying reptile with a really weird head, which some say looks like a butterfly. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

AFP (Aug. 11, 2014) The hulks of tanks can still be found rusting in the jungles of Palau, but the fierce fighting that scarred the Pacific island nation in WWII has left a more dangerous legacy - unexploded bombs that pose a constant risk to locals. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins