Diachronic effects of bio-cultural factors on stature and body proportions in British archaeological populations

M Schweich, Tennessee State University


Humans like all animal species, are subject to Bergmann's (1847) and Allen's (1877) environmental rules which summarize physical adaptations to the natural environment. However, humans are in addition cultural animals and other bio-cultural factors, such as social, economic and political status, general health, and nutrition, have a noticeable influence on stature and body proportions. Importantly, socio-economic status has a powerful influence on stature, which has been used to elucidate status differences in past societies (Bogin and Loucky, 1997; Floud et al., 1990; Schutkowski, 2000a). Furthermore, bio-cultural factors influence all dimensions of the human body, including weight, relative limb length, and relative length of the different limb segments. Given minimal migration and shared natural environments, all populations in this study, coming as they do from the last 2000 years of English history, should demonstrate similar morphology (c.f. Ruff, 1994) if climatic variables were the only influence on stature and body proportions. In order to assess such bio-cultural factors in individuals from archaeological populations, skeletal populations from sites such as known leprosaria and medieval hospitals, rural and urban parish cemeteries, victims from the battle of Towton in A.D. 1461, and individuals from monastic cemeteries were analysed. The osteometric data from these populations were assessed for within and between population variability and indicate effects of bio-cultural factors on attained body proportions and stature. The results indicate a strong relationship between bio-cultural factors and body proportions, body mass index, prevalence of pathologies, sexual dimorphism, secular trend, and general stature from Roman times to the post-medieval period. The usefulness of stature, weight, and physical indices as markers of the bio-cultural environment is demonstrated. The main findings include: a greater sensitivity to external stressors in the males rather than the females of the analysed populations, rendering male statures more susceptible to varying bio-cultural conditions.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

M Schweich, "Diachronic effects of bio-cultural factors on stature and body proportions in British archaeological populations" (2005). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAIU226130.