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Research Shows The Civil War, Trail Of Tears Impacted Cherokees’ Physical Development

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New research from North Carolina State University has found a connection between historical stressors and physiological development in the Cherokee nation. 

In the late 19th century, anthropologist Franz Boas measured the skulls of adult Cherokees from groups who had grown up as the nation was split. Some were driven west on the Trail of Tears, and others fled to the Smoky Mountains for safety. 

NC State Forensic Anthropologist Ann Ross analyzed that data and found that Cherokees from both groups developed smaller skulls with different shapes.  

Ross said that can be an indicator of environmental stress, including malnutrition.  She said the Western band showed greater stress.

“So, they changed their environment, they had to change the way they lived. They had to change the way they procured food, and all these things. They also dealt with raiding tribes around the area,” Ross explained. “So these things affected their health significantly.”

Ross says this evidence of environmental stress on physiology is an important tool for understanding health issues in developing countries.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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