• Later Stone Age;
  • hunter-gatherers;
  • Khoesan;
  • bioarchaeology;
  • stature;
  • stable isotopes;
  • paleodiet


Temporal and geographic variability in adult body size can be a useful indicator of a population's adaptation. The southern African Cape supported foraging populations exclusively until some pastoralism is seen, ca. 2000 BP. This paper describes and interprets body-size patterns among foragers, as deduced from maximum femoral lengths and femoral head diameters, using 127 individually dated adult skeletons from the western (70) and southern (57) regions of the Cape (64 male, 60 female, 3 sex undetermined). Estimated statures are comparable to historic Khoesan samples, but show lower values and greater variance during the fifth/fourth millennium before the present among both sexes and both biomes. Variation in femoral length does not correlate with diet protein, as reflected in stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) values. Positive correlations between femoral head diameter and isotopic indicators suggest greater body mass with more reliance on marine protein. A decline in femoral length begins at around 4000 BP, a time when archaeologists suggest that population growth led to the incorporation of lower-ranked food resources, and to reduced mobility. A clearly identifiable linear recovery, beginning at around 3000 BP, greatly predates the earliest evidence of pastoralism on the Cape. Apparent problems of food sufficiency were addressed and solved, within a hunting and gathering economy. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.