Vertebral arthritis is examined in a prehistoric Native American sample from northwestern Alabama. Both osteophytosis (OP) of the vertebral bodies and osteoarthritis (OA) of the apophyseal facets are highest in the lumbar vertebrae, followed by the cervical and thoracic segments, although differences are much more striking in OP. OA is bilaterally asymmetric, with greater prevalence on the right side in the upper thoracic region. Much of the patterning seen in arthritis in this and other samples is due to the stresses imposed by spinal curvature and weight-bearing due to our erect posture. In addition, handedness is the probable cause of asymmetry in OA. However, the high levels of cervical OP are unexpected, and may be due to use of the tumpline in carrying burdens. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.