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Friday, May 15, 2009

Evolutionary trends of stature in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe

Evolutionary trends of stature in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe

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Vincenzo Formicola and Monica Giannecchini

Dip. di Etologia, Ecologia ed Evoluzione, University of Pisa, via A. Volta 6, I-56126, Pisa, Italy

Received 1 October 1997; revised 18 March 1998; accepted 29 September 1998. ; Available online 27 March 2002.

Long bone lengths of all available European Upper Paleolithic (41 males, 25 females) and Mesolithic (171 males, 118 females) remains have been transformed into stature estimates by means of new regression equations derived from Early Holocene skeletal samples using “Fully's anatomical stature” and the major axis regression technique (Formicola & Franceschi, 1996). Statistical analysis of the data, with reference both to time and space parameters, indicates that: (1) Early Upper Paleolithic samples (pre-Glacial Maximum) are very tall; (2) Late Upper Paleolithic groups (post-Glacial Maximum) from Western Europe, compared to their ancestors, show a marked decrease in height; (3) a further, although not significant, reduction of stature affects Western Mesolithics; (4) no regional differences have been observed during both phases of the Upper Paleolithic; (5) a high level of homogeneity has also been found in the Mesolithic, both in Western and Eastern Europe; (6) the internal homogeneity found during the Mesolithic in Western and Eastern Europe is associated with marked inter-regional variability, with populations of the latter region showing systematically significantly greater stature than their Western contemporaries.

Evaluation of possible causes for the great stature of the Early Upper Paleolithic samples points to high nutritional standards as the most important factor. Results obtained on later groups clearly indicate that the Last Glacial Maximum, rather than the Mesolithic transition, is the critical phase in the negative trend affecting Western European populations. While changes in the quality of the diet, and in particular decreased protein intake, provide a likely explanation for that trend, variations in levels of gene flow probably also played a role. Reasons for the West–East Mesolithic dichotomy remain unclear and lack of information for the Late Upper Paleolithic of Eastern Europe prevents insight into the remote origins of this phenomenon. Analysis of regional differentiation of stature, particularly well supported by data from Mesolithic sites, points to the absence of today's latitudinal gradients and suggests a relative homogeneity in dietary, cultural and biodemographic patterns for the last hunter-gatherer populations of Western Europe.

Author Keywords: Human Palaeontology, stature, Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Europe

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