The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Health & Well-being in Pre- & Post-Black Death London: An Assessment of Sexual Stature Dimorphism


Anthropology, University of South Carolina

April 17, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Given evidence that physical growth for males is more sensitive to environmental fluctuations while immune responses in females may provide better buffering against environmental conditions, the degree of sexual stature dimorphism (SSD), the ratio of male to female height, may be an indicator of living standards. The degree of SSD is expected to decrease as resource availability declines. This association has been observed in living contexts, and the aim of this study is to assess SSD as an indicator of living standards in medieval London in the context of repeated famine events before the Black Death (c. 1348-1350) but improved wages and diet afterwards. This study compared adult individuals from pre-Black Death (n=325) and post-Black Death (n=289) cemeteries from London. Maximum tibial length was used as a proxy for stature, and SSD was calculated as the ratio of male to female mean tibial length. Both sexes achieved taller adult stature in the post-plague environment. Results revealed only a slightly higher degree of SSD after the Black Death. When considering SSD by age at death, trends in both stature and SSD were more similar between the early pre-Black Death sample (c. 1000-1200) and the post-Black Death sample (c. 1350-1540), compared to the late pre-Black Death group (c. 1200-1250). Differentials in male to female heights driving SSD values across these time periods may indicate differences in resource allocation by sex. This study underscores the importance of examining indicators of well-being by age-at-death category within their specific biohistorical context.

Slides/Poster (pdf)