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

Sexual Dimorphism and Health in Prehistoric Thailand


Department of Anatomy, University of Otago

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Sexual dimorphism, the difference between male and female body size, varies between populations and is influenced by environmental factors. The level of skeletal sexual dimorphism in a population is often used as an indicator of health. It is expected that in adverse conditions, males would not reach their genetic potential for size, resulting in low levels of sexual dimorphism.

This paper aimed to test the relationship between sexual dimorphism in skeletal size and general health in an adult sample (N = 190) from Ban Non Wat, Northeast Thailand (1750 – 420 B.C). Previous research suggests that health in Southeast Asia did not deteriorate during agricultural intensification as severely as in some Western populations. Therefore, this research tests three hypotheses: 1) health would be static over time; 2) population sexual dimorphism will positively correlate with general health; 3) males will be more sensitive to environmental changes than females. These hypotheses are tested by examining childhood stress reflected in the prevalence of linear enamel hypoplasia, terminal adult skeletal size, and stress during later life reflected in periosteal reactions.

The results indicated that general health improved over time, sexual dimorphism and health were negatively correlated, and females demonstrated greater variation in skeletal dimensions, whereas there was stability in male body size over time, and there are no sex-specific differences in either indicator of non-specific systemic stress. This research shows that the assumptions about the relationship between changes in health and sexual dimorphism with agricultural intensification in mainland Southeast Asia are complex.

This research was funded by a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship awarded to AC.

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