The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Changing gender roles in prehistoric America: physical activity with the transition to agriculture in the Midwest


Biomedical Sciences, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine

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Changes in physical activity and dietary indicators are the best ways that biological anthropologists have to assess changes in agriculture. In the prehistoric Midwest, dietary indicators have demonstrated that maize consumption becomes measurable during the Late Woodland trait complex. However, it is not until the Mississippian trait complex that people become truly dependent on maize agriculture. The physical activity changes that occur during this time seem much more complex. For this study, physical activity was measured through long bone measurements and osteoarthritis classification. These data suggest that upper body activity decreased with the transition to agriculture. The analyses are consistent with previous literature, which interprets these results as indicative of better food processing techniques. Increased activity, however, was seen in the femora and may thus suggest increased weight-bearing activities with dependence on agriculture.

Additional results indicated that during the Middle and Late Woodland complexes, male and female activity patterns ran parallel. However, during the Mississippian trait complex, a significant increase in osteoarthritis scores in the weight-bearing bones of females was found while males’ scores during this period decreased. This trend suggests a change in the social division of labor with the transition to agriculture that has not previously been reported.

Funding for this research was provided by a Grant-in-Aid of Doctoral Research from the Indiana University Graduate School and by a Skomp Grant from the Indiana University Department of Anthropology.

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