Degenerative Disc Disease in the Lower Illinois River Valley: Middle Woodland, Late Woodland, & Mississippian Comparisons

  • Polly R. Husmann School of Medicine, Indiana University
Keywords: Pete Klunk mounds, Schild mounds, maize, agriculture, vertebral osteophytosis


Assessing degenerative disc disease during changes in prehistoric subsistence-settlement patterns can help to elucidate changes in levels of physical activity patterns during this transition. The present study compares rates and severity of degenerative disc disease in adults during the Middle Woodland, Late Woodland, and Mississippian periods in the Lower Illinois River Valley. The disease was assessed by sex and two age-at-death categories (young ≤ 45 years, old = 45+ years) in 317 individuals. Results indicate that degenerative disc scores for both young and old females decreased between the Middle Woodland (A.D. 150– 400) and Late Woodland periods (A.D. 400–1050), then increased in the Mississippian period (A.D. 1050– 1500). These trends were statistically significant in the older female category. Male individuals, both young and old, demonstrated significant decreases in degenerative disc scores between the Late Woodland and Mississippian periods. Within a single period, both young and older males were found to have higher degenerative disc scores than females during the Late Woodland period, while older females were found to have higher degenerative disc scores than older males during the Mississippian period. It is interesting to note the opposing directionality in male and female trends between the Late Woodland and Mississippian periods at these sites. The trends of increasing female degenerative disc scores at the same time as decreasing male scores with the intensification of maize agriculture may indicate cultural or technological changes.