Get access

Mobility in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe: Evidence from the lower limb


  • Brigitte M. Holt

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708
    • Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Box 90383, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708
    Search for more papers by this author


A growing body of archeological evidence suggests that the dramatic climatic events of the Last Glacial Maximum in Europe triggered important changes in foraging behavior, involving a significant decrease in mobility. In general, changes in mobility alter patterns of bending of the midshaft femur and tibia, resulting in changes in diaphyseal robusticity and shape. This relationship between levels of mobility and lower limb diaphyseal structure was used to test the hypothesized decrease in mobility. Cross-sectional geometric data were obtained for 81 Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic European femora and tibiae. The sample was divided into three time periods: Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP), Late Upper Paleolithic (LUP), and Mesolithic (Meso). In addition, because decreased mobility often results in changes in sex roles, males and females were analyzed separately. All indicators of bending strength decrease steadily through time, although few of the changes reach statistical significance. There is, however, a highly significant change in midshaft femur shape, with LUP and Meso groups more circular in cross-section than the EUP sample, supporting archeologically based predictions of decreased mobility. Sexual dimorphism levels in diaphyseal strength remain low throughout the three time periods, suggesting a departure in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic foragers away from the pattern of division of labor by sex observed in modern hunter-gatherers. Results confirm that the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum represents a crucial stage in Late Pleistocene human evolution, and signals the appearance of some of the behavioral adaptations that are usually associated with the Neolithic, such as sedentism. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.