• Skeletal biology;
  • Nonmetric traits;
  • North atlantic


Physical anthropologists have long been intrigued by the distinctive oral tori expressed by the medieval Norse populations of Iceland and Greenland. To assess the temporal and spatial variation of one form of oral tori, palatine torus, observations were made on all available Greenlandic Norse skeletons, as well as on samples of medieval Icelanders and Norwegians. In terms of temporal variation, 12th to 14th century (medieval) Greenlanders from the Eastern and Western settlements exhibited higher frequencies and more pronounced expressions of palatine torus compared with early 11th century Greenlanders. The early Greenlandic sample closely approximated the medieval Icelandic and Norwegian samples for total torus frequency, although the Norwegians exhibited the trait to a less pronounced degree. As degree of expression is the most distinctive aspect of torus variation among the Norse, some combination of environmental factors, including increased masticatory stress and chronic undernutrition, probably accounts for most of the difference between settlement period and medieval Greenlanders. Although palatine torus may be hereditary in part, environmental factors play a significant role in the expression of this trait. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.