The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Status in Prehistory: Exploration of Maya Social Tiers with Cross-Sectional Geometry


Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico

Thursday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

Bioarchaeological investigations of prehistoric complex societies largely rely on skeletal indicators of health and/or associated grave goods to infer the status of individuals. However, absence of skeletal evidence of disease or malnutrition does not necessarily mean an individual was "healthy," and quantity and quality of grave goods does not necessarily correlate with status across cultures. This research explores the use of long bone cross-sectional geometry (CSG) to delineate individuals of different social tiers by their activity patterns. Skeletal samples examined include pre-contact Maya from elite (n=43) and non-elite (n=60) contexts. The external diaphyseal shapes of the humerus, femur and tibia of each individual were measured for general robusticity and strength in resistance to torsional and bending forces (Imax/Imin, J and TA) from 3D models of long bones created with a Nextengine® 3D laser scanner. Cross-sections were taken from 3D models at 35% of humerus length, and 50% of femur and tibia length. Mann-Whitney U tests were used to detect significant differences in upper and lower limb CSG between status groups. Differences are most pronounced between elite and non-elite Maya females. Elite females have more robust femora than non-elite females, but non-elite females have relatively greater tibia Imax/Imin (p=0.052) than elite females. Despite the presence of sexual dimorphism in other CSG properties, non-elite males and females are similar to each other in tibial Imax/Imin, with more pronounced antero-posterior (AP) expansion of the tibia, while the tibiae of elite females have a more circular cross-section.

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