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

A comparison of Mesolithic and Neolithic population affinities using the cranium and postcranium


1Department of Anthropology, University of Kent, 2Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 3School of Archaeology, University College Dublin

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Recent studies have shown that cranial shape variables reflect neutral evolutionary processes and can, therefore, be employed as a proxy for genetic data when reconstructing past population history. As such, craniometric shape data have shown that the initial transition to agriculture in southwestern and central regions of Europe was associated with demic diffusion from the Levant and Anatolia. However, it is currently unclear whether the same demographic signal is discernible in postcranial data. Here we test this hypothesis utilizing matched craniometric and postcranial data for 11 Mesolithic and Neolithic populations from Europe, the Near East and North Africa. The collated database comprised ten variables from the lower limb (femur and tibia), eight variables from the upper limb (humerus, radius and ulna) and 15 cranial dimensions. Biological affinity matrices based on these three datasets were compared statistically against distance matrices representing geography, time, archaeological group, and temperature. As expected based on previous studies, cranial shape data distinguished Mesolithic and Neolithic populations, even when correcting for geographic and temporal distance. In contrast, the lower and upper limb datasets were significantly correlated with temperature, and were not reflective of archaeological designation or geographic distance. These results suggest that relative limb dimensions are not tracking the same neutral population history as the cranium and point to the strong influence of climatic factors in determining limb morphology in modern human populations, irrespective of whether they are hunter-gatherers or farmers.

This research is supported by the European Research Council Starting Grant (ERC-2010-StG 263441)

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