Intrapopulation variation in stature and body proportions: Social status and sex differences in an Italian medieval population (Trino Vercellese, VC)



The phenotypic expression of adult body size and shape results from synergistic interactions between hereditary factors and environmental conditions experienced during growth. Variation in body size and shape occurs even in genetically relatively homogeneous groups, due to different occurrence, duration, and timing of growth insults. Understanding the causes and patterns of intrapopulation variation can foster meaningful information on early life conditions in living and past populations. This study assesses the pattern of biological variation in body size and shape attributable to sex and social status in a medieval Italian population. The sample includes 52 (20 female, 32 male) adult individuals from the medieval population of Trino Vercellese, Italy. Differences in element size and overall body size (skeletal height and body mass) were assessed through Monte Carlo methods, while univariate non-parametric tests and Principal Component Analysis (PCA) were employed to examine segmental and overall body proportions. Discriminant Analysis was employed to determine the predictive value of individual skeletal elements for social status in the population. Our results highlight a distinct pattern in body size and shape variation in relation to status and sex. Male subsamples exhibit significant postcranial variation in body size, while female subsamples express smaller, nonsignificant differences. The analysis of segmental proportions highlighted differences in trunk/lower limb proportions between different status samples, and PCA indicated that in terms of purely morphological variation high status males were distinct from all other groups. The pattern observed likely resulted from a combination of biological factors and cultural practices. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.