While the stress levels of these Medieval Peruvians were higher on average than levels measured for today's individuals, Webb indicates that the comforts of modern living may not be able to erase human stress.
"A society serves as a protective buffer, and while our society effectively protects us from, for example, extreme year-to-year differences in food availability, as individuals, we still experience considerable stress in our lives for other reasons," she said.
Her team's findings may help to explain why hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), associated with stress and other risk factors, was found in 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummies.
University of California at San Diego School of Medicine researcher Michael Miyamoto, who led that study, discovered the highest amount of atherosclerosis in Lady Rai, a nursemaid to Queen Ahmose Nefertiti. Lady Rai died between the age of 30 and 40 at around 1530 B.C.
Webb and her colleagues are now hoping to pinpoint what might have caused the detected stress in the early Peruvians. This may be possible, she said, since nitrogen and carbon isotopes present in hair permit reconstruction of ancient diets and certain physiological and metabolic states.