Biomechanical approach to the reconstruction of activity patterns in Neolithic Western Liguria, Italy

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Abstract

This paper investigates the changes in upper and lower limb robusticity and activity patterns that accompanied the transition to a Neolithic subsistence in western Liguria (Italy). Diaphyseal robusticity measures were obtained from cross-sectional geometric properties of the humerus and femur in a sample of 16 individuals (eight males and eight females) dated to about 6,000–5,500 BP. Comparisons with European Late Upper Paleolithics (LUP) indicate increased humeral robusticity in Neolithic Ligurian (NEOL) males, but not in females, with a significant reduction in right-left differences in both sexes. Sexual dimorphism in robusticity increases in upper and lower limb bones. Regarding the femur, while all female indicators of bending strength decrease steadily through time, values for NEOL males approach those of LUP. This suggests high, and unexpected, levels of mechanical stress for NEOL males, probably reflecting the effects of the mountainous terrain on lower limb remodeling. Comparisons between NEOL males and a small sample of LUP hunter-gatherers from the same area support this interpretation. In conclusion, cross-sectional geometry data indicate that the transition to Neolithic economies in western Liguria did not reduce functional requirements in males, and suggest a marked sexual division of labor involving a more symmetrical use of the upper limb, and different male-female levels of locomotory stress. When articulated with archaeological, faunal, paleopathological, and ethnographic evidence, these results support the hypothesis of repetitive, bimanual use of axes tied to pastoral activities in males, and of more sedentary tasks linked to agriculture in females. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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