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


Secular change is context dependent: an example from Portugal

HUGO FV. CARDOSO.

Department of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, University of Porto Medical School

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This paper cautions general assumptions about secular change in Portugal during and after the industrial revolution as mirroring those of other Western countries, such as in the UK or the US. The social, economic, demographic and political history of Portugal was unlike that of these countries and, consequently, the Portuguese experienced a very different pattern of secular changes. In this study femur length, as a surrogate of stature, is compared between two samples of male (n=130) and female (n=130) skeletons from two different collections in Lisbon Portugal, representing a 150 year time span. One sample represents the early 19th century, whereas the other the middle 20th century. The older sample is derived from the Ferraz de Macedo collection and the more modern from the Lisbon collection, both housed at the National Museum of Natural History in Lisbon Portugal. Results show that between the early 19thcentury and the middle 20th century, there are no significant changes in femur length. In addition, while mean femur length in females increased slightly, in males it decreased. This suggests that secular changes favoring growth did not take place during this time period, as it occurred in the US or the UK. In light of these results and of documented political, economical and social changes, the general Portuguese population experienced only minor improvements in living conditions, and hence was under no significant secular change process. Significant environmental changes came later and were mostly experienced by those born after 1960.

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