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

An examination of pubertal development in human skeletal remains from medieval England


Archaeology, University of Reading

Friday 10, Clinch Concourse Add to calendar

In societies where date of birth was rarely formally recorded, the perception of individuals as children or adults was inevitably dependent on the physical process of puberty, but this subject has to date received little attention in bioarchaeology. Based on modern data, it is possible to identify specific dental and skeletal maturation events that closely correspond with the external changes of puberty: the development of the mandibular canine, hamate, hand phalanges, iliac crest, cervical vertebrae and distal radius. This paper presents the results of an application of these methods to two large skeletal collections from Medieval England: St Peter’s Church, Barton-upon-Humber and St Mary Spital, London. Examining pubertal development alongside chronological age in these two very different populations provides an insight into the possible environmental and social factors that affected this maturation process in the past. In both populations, the onset of puberty appears to be occurring at a similar age to 20th century adolescents, but the later stages of puberty were significantly delayed, in some cases by four or five years in comparison to modern standards. Age at menarche also seems to have been being affected, particularly in the urban group. This analysis suggests that the timing and progress of puberty in medieval England was being influenced by environmental factors including nutrition, exposure to infection and physical labour.

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust as part of the three year project: ‘Adolescence, health and migration in Medieval England’

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