Bioarchaeology of the middle Neolithic: Evidence for archery among early european farmers


  • Aline Thomas

    Corresponding author
    1. Université de Bordeaux, Pessac, France
    • Correspondence to: Aline Thomas, Université de Bordeaux, UMR 5199 PACEA – équipe A3P: Anthropologie des Populations Passées et Présentes, Bâtiment B8 allée Geoffroy Saint Hilaire CS 50023, 33615 Pessac Cedex, France. E-mail:

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This article focuses on Neolithic skeletons associated with the first monumental cemeteries of Western Europe and specifically those of the Cerny culture (Paris Basin, France). While this cultural context is an agrarian one, numerous arrowheads derived from complete hunting equipment are present in numerous graves. The goal of this work is to evaluate the morphological and pathological differences among the individuals according to the presence of arrowheads in their graves. It is postulated that those buried with such artifacts practiced archery, unlike their counterparts. Only adult males were selected for study to limit the effect of non-mechanical factors such as age- and sex-related modifications. The corpus consists of 36 males reliably identified among the 101 Cerny adults currently available. Thirteen men are associated with arrowheads. Variations in morphology and robusticity are evaluated on the basis of the external geometric properties of the appendicular skeleton. Entheseal changes to fibrocartilaginous attachment sites of upper and lower limbs are also examined. Both nonpathological skeletal adaptations and pathological indicators are consistent and reveal significant differences between the two groups compared. Functional adaptation is observed in the forearm bones and the clavicle in response to mechanical loads, and enthesopathies suggest repeated forceful use of upper limb muscles. These osteological changes specifically reflect the higher intensity upper limb activity of the men buried with arrowheads and correspond with the medical data on known archers, suggesting that this specific forceful task is linked to the practice of archery. Am J Phys Anthropol 154:279–290, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.