This study examines the relationship between craniofacial fluctuating asymmetry and cause of death in an identified skeletal collection. This study tests the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis using fluctuating asymmetry as the measure of developmental instability.


The skeletal sample used in this study comes from Lisbon, Portugal, and individuals in the sample were born between 1806 and 1935. This represents a period during which Lisbon was beginning to undergo the modern health transition, in which mortality from infectious disease began to decline while mortality from degenerative diseases began to increase. Approximately equal numbers of individuals in the sample died from infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, and from degenerative diseases. Fluctuating asymmetry is examined using three-dimensional landmark data collected from 392 individuals with documented causes of death. Landmark data may provide a more robust measure of fluctuating asymmetry, although it has not often been used in studies of fluctuating asymmetry in human skeletal samples.


The results of the study show that individuals who died from degenerative diseases have higher rates of fluctuating asymmetry compared to individuals who died from infectious diseases. Males also exhibit higher rates of fluctuating asymmetry compared to females.


The results of this study confirm earlier findings that early development has a significant impact on adult health outcomes. Furthermore, the results suggest that fluctuating asymmetry in skeletal samples may offer a means of testing the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 25:411–417, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.