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

Sexual differentiation in humeral bilateral asymmetry during the Late Holocene at Roonka Flat, South Australia


1Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, Texas Tech University, 2Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, 3Department of Anthropology, Science Centre, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, Australia

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The Roonka skeletal population from South Australia is comprised of individuals from three distinct phases (Roonka II, IIIa, and IIIb) that broadly correspond to the Early, Middle, and Late Holocene. Sites throughout South Australia indicate that the relatively wet climate of the Early Holocene gives way to drier conditions in the Late Holocene. The accompanying environmental effects of this climatic shift would have caused a corresponding shift in human behavior and subsistence strategies. There is also palaeodietary and archaeological evidence that sexual differentiation became more pronounced during the Late Holocene as populations became denser, especially along the Murray River. Since the Roonka population covers a large portion of the Holocene, it provides the ability to test these assumptions. This study’s objective is to compare trends in upper limb asymmetry between these phases to search for differing adaptive strategies to a changing climate and sexual differentiation in activity patterns. Circumference and diameter measurements were taken on the humeri and ulnae of individuals with both sides present to determine the extent of asymmetry. Results show similar levels of upper limb asymmetry across all phases, but during the Late Holocene (Roonka IIIb), there is a marked difference between male and female asymmetry. Since asymmetry indicates differential use of the respective limbs, it is likely that during the Late Holocene males and females were performing different tasks. This evidence for sexual differentiation supports the hypothesis that Australian populations along the Murray River became denser and more stratified during the Late Holocene.

This research was funded by Texas Tech University

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