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«JANUSZ PIONTEK1, BLANDYNA JERSZYÑSKA1, SERGIY SEGEDA2 Adam Mickiewicz University, Institute of Anthropology, Poznañ, Poland 1 Ukrainian Academy of ...»

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Long bones growth variation among prehistoric agricultural and pastoral populations Vol. 9: 61–73

Variability and Evolution, 2001,


Adam Mickiewicz University, Institute of Anthropology, Poznañ, Poland


Ukrainian Academy of Science, Institute of Archaeology, Kiev, Ukraine






PIONTEK J., JERSZYÑSKA B., SEGEDA S. 2001. Long bones growth variation among prehistoric agricultural and pastoral populations from Ukraine (Bronze Era to Iron Age). Variability and Evolution, Vol. 9: 61–73.

Tabs. 4, Figs. 5. Adam Mickiewicz University, Faculty of Biology, Institute of Anthropology, Poznañ.

Abstract: The authors attempted to determine the tendencies in the development of long bones (femur and tibia) in the Bronze Era and Iron Age agricultural and pastoral populations (differing with adaptive strategies used) from Ukraine. A total of 79 skeletons of individuals who had died at the age of 1 to 13 years were examined. This number included 55 skeletons from the Bronze Era (15 individuals from the population of farmers, and 40 individuals from the population of herders) and 24 skeletons from the Iron Age (12 farmers and 12 herders).

The results of the research indicate that subadults in pastoral populations were taller than subadults in agricultural populations. This could have resulted in their greater body height in adulthood as well as in different body proportions (herders had relatively long tibia and higher stature, while farmers had relatively short tibia and smaller body height).

Key words: diaphyseal length, femur, tibia, subadults, Bronze Era, Iron Age, Ukraine Introduction The relation between an individual’s growth and development and the conditions in which these processes are taking place is one of the major research problems of modern physical anthropology (Bielicki 1986; Bogin 1988; Tanner 1962, 1978).

62 J. Piontek, B. Jerszyñska, S. Segeda 0 100 km agriculture pastoral Fig. 1. A general map of basin of the Dniepr river and areas agriculture and pastoral populations Similarly, in the research of skeletal populations, long bones growth curves are used to analyse the influence of living conditions on developmental processes. The purpose of this type of research is to produce a general assessment of the living conditions of prehistoric populations being a new source of information for archaeological and anthropological syntheses (Maresh 1955; Johnston 1962, 1968, 1969; Walker 1969;

Armelagos etal. 1972; y’Edynak 1976; Merchant, Ubelaker 1977; Stloukal, Hanáková 1978; Sundick 1978; Hummert, Van Gerven 1983; Cook 1979, 1984; Goodman et al. 1984; Jantz, Owsley 1984; Mensforth 1985; Grauer 1989; Johnston, Zimmer 1989; Lovejoy et al. 1990; Molleson 1990; Lovejoy et al. 1990; Saunders, Melbye 1990; Wall 1991; Hoppa 1992, 2000; Saunders 1992; Saunders, Hoppa 1993; Saunders et al. 1993; Milles, Bulman 1994; Sciulli 1994; Ribot, Roberts 1996; Hoppa, Gruspier 1996; Steyn, Henneberg 1996; Boldsen 1998; May 1999).

A study of the ontogenetic processes in prehistoric populations requires precise estimation of individual’s age at death. For this purpose dental age is usually determined using the standards for teeth formation and eruption developed for 63 Long bones growth variation among prehistoric agricultural and pastoral populations modern populations (Moorrees et al. 1963a, b; Ubelaker 1984, 1987; Buikstra, Ubelaker 1994). Use of dental age for this purpose seems justified as dental growth shows lower sensitivity to environmental factors than long bones growth (May et al. 1993).

The major purpose of the research involving the analysis of the impact of living conditions on the morphological structure of prehistoric populations is to find answers to the following questions: (1) Have the patterns of human biological development undergone major evolutional change?; (2) Were the tendencies in ontogenetic processes taking place in prehistoric populations similar to these taking place in modern populations?; (3) Was the effect of environmental factors on development and growth of an individual in prehistoric populations similar to their effect observed in modern populations?; (4) What was the effect of nutritional and pathological changes taking place in the periods of major social and economic transformations (such as transition to agriculture) on human growth and development?; (5) What was the effect of the changes in the demographic structure of a population on human growth and development, and what is the feasibility of the comparison of data for a skeletal population and data for a modern population?

(Armelagos et al. 1972; Boldsen 1998; Buikstra, Cook 1980; Bushang 1982; Cohen, Armelagos 1984; Frayer 1984; Goode et al. 1993; Hoppa 1992, 2000; Hummert, Van Gerven 1983; Humphrey 1998; Jantz, Owsley 1984; Johnston 1962, 1968, 1969; Maresh 1955; Merchant, Ubelaker 1977; Jacobs 1985a, b; Molleson 1990;

Larsen 1987, 1995; Lovejoy et al. 1990; Saunders 1992; Saunders et al. 1993a, b;

Stloukal, Hanáková 1978; Sundick 1978; Ubelaker 1984; Wall 1991; Wood et al.

1992; y’Edynak 1976).

Researchers are discussing differences in the patterns of biological development between Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and modern Homo sapiens, and the influence of the varying developmental paths on body size and shape and proportions (Thompson 1998; Nelson, Thompson 1999; Jennifer, Nelson 2000; Tillier 2000).

The authors analysing biological consequences of transition to agriculture suggest that the major change in socio-economic behaviour in the Neolithic brought about a change in the biological development pattern in early farmers (Hassan 1981; Larsen 1987, 1995; Piontek 1995, 1999; Ruff et al. 1984).

The studies of the skeletons of adult individuals from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic indicate that two different adaptation strategies developed by Neolithic populations in Europe (land cultivation, pastorals) could have had a major influence on the shape of growth and development processes in individuals, and, as a result, on emergence of differences in the general body build between early farmers and herders (Piontek 1995, 1999, 2001; Krenz-Niedba³a 2000).

Studies of contemporary populations indicate also interpopulational differentiation of the patterns of human biological development (Tanner 1962; Bogin 1988).

The purpose of this work is to try and provide answers to questions concerning the mode of growth and development of long bones (femur and tibia) in agricultural 64 J. Piontek, B. Jerszyñska, S. Segeda and pastoral populations (differing with regard to adaptive strategies used) inhabiting Ukraine in the Bronze Era and Iron Age.

Investigation of this problem may help to find answer to the following question of more general nature: Do the differences in body build found in early farmers and herders living in Europe in the Neolithic and post-Neolithic period (Frayer 1981, 1984; Jacobs 1985a, b; Cohen, Armelagos 1984; Jankauskas 1994; Ruff et al. 1984;

Piontek 1995, 1999, 2001; Krenz-Niedba³a 1999, 2000; Formicolla, Giannecchini 1999; Vanèata 1997) have their source in different patterns of ontogenetic development typical of these populations?

Materials and methods

The skeletal material was obtained from the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukrainian Academy of Science in Kiev. Femoral and tibial bones were selected from the material coming from 47 burial grounds located in the upper basin of the Dnieper river (Fig. 1). Excavation studies in burial grounds dated to the Bronze Era and Iron Age were conducted from 1970 to 1990 (Zinevych 1967; Kruc 1997; Segeda 2000, 2001; Yefimova 1999, 2000). The research material was composed of 79 skeletons of individuals with age at death ranging from 1 to 13 years, including 55 skeletons from the Bronze Era and 24 skeletons from the Iron Age.

Populations inhabiting the basin of the Dnieper river in the Bronze Era and the Iron Age differed from the cultural point of view. Groups connected with the Yamnaya (Pit Grave) and Catacomb Cultures from the Bronze Era and the Scythian and Sarmatian Cultures from the Iron Age represented nomadic pastoral peoples.

Groups belonging to the Mnogovalikovaya Culture, Srubnaya (Timber Grave) Culture from the Bronze Era and connected with the Iron Age forest-steppe cultures represented populations preferring the settled mode of life and engaged in land cultivation and animal husbandry (Tab. 1, 2).

Bone material from the cemeteries specified in Table 1 and 2 was very poorly preserved. We were looking for skeletons with the skull and femur and tibia diaphyses intact. Skulls were checked for deciduous or permanent dentition in order to determine dental age at death (Moorres et al. 1963a, b; Ferembach et al. 1980; Saunders 1992;

Ubelaker 1984; Buikstra, Ubelaker 1994). The sex of the subadult skeletons under examination remained undetermined, since despite the use of different determination methods the number of successful cases was very low (see: Rösing 1983; Kaczmarek

et al. 1988; Schutkowski 1993; Majó et al. 1993; Molleson et al. 1998; see also:

Stewart 1962, Sundick 1978).

The lengths of the right and left femur and tibia diaphyses were measured.

Measurements of the right bones, and when these were missing, of the left ones were taken into consideration. Computations and diagrams were made using STATISTICA 5.0 program.

65 Long bones growth variation among prehistoric agricultural and pastoral populations


Individual measurements of the femur and tibia diaphyseal lengths were used for drawing development curves (Fig. 2–5) in chronological (Bronze Era – Iron Age) and cultural (agriculture, pastoralism) groups. Due to the scarcity of the bone material under examination it was impossible to determine arithmetical means and standard deviations for the diaphyseal lengths in age groups. The means and standard deviations of the lengths of femoral and tibial diaphyses were calculated only for the skeletons of subadults that had died at the age of approximately 13 years, forming the most numerous group (Tab. 4).

The courses of the diaphyseal development curves were analysed. Majority of the femur and tibia diaphyses of subadults from groups of farmers were shorter

–  –  –

than the diaphyses of the bones of subadults from pastoral groups. This was true of both Bronze Era and Iron Age skeletons.

The differences in the lengths of the tibia diaphyses are more distinct than the differences in the length of the femoral bone shafts, which may indicate that subadults group (Tab. 4) we found out that in subadults from pastoral groups femoral and tibial bones were always longer in relation to the bones of subadults from agricultural groups, which could have resulted in their greater body height in adulthood and in different body proportions (relatively long tibia in herders and greater body height;

relatively short tibia and lower body height in farmers).


We wish to emphasise that we are fully aware of all cognitive limitations resulting from the small quantity of skeletons forming the research material, its lack of homogeneity as well as of all deformations that could have had effect on the course of the process of long bones development in the skeletal sample under analysis (Buikstra, Cook 1980; Lovejoy et al. 1990; Wood et al. 1992; Hoppa 1992; Saunders, Hoppa 1993a).

Despite the fact that our research was carried out on so imperfect sample of skeletal material, we have obtained a result, which has been corroborated by comparative studies of skeletons of adult individuals from the populations of the Neolithic and post-Neolithic farmers and herders from Central Europe. Comparing body size and shape of the Neolithic farmers and herders we have found significant differences in the length of their long bones and the proportions of these bones (Jankauskas 1994).

We presume an occurrence of a marked shift from K-strategy to r-strategy, as proposed by Pianka (1995), in agricultural populations that resulted in an accelerated reproduction rate, higher fertility rate, shorter weaning period, accelerated puberty and changes is body size, proportions and sexual dimorphism in those populations (Piontek 1999).

Hassan (1981) believes that high fertility in early agricultural populations was related to early puberty. Similarly, Larsen’s model (1995) describing biological consequences of transition to agriculture assumes that high fertility characteristic of agricultural populations and early puberty were factors responsible for a specific course of ontogenetic processes and for reduction of body size in these populations.

Taking into account the above findings we suggest that prehistoric agricultural populations had lower stature with shorter limbs, that is short tibia and radius, and longer trunks, while pastoral populations from the early post-Neolithic period, had higher stature with longer limbs, that is long tibia and radius. We believe that two different adaptive strategies developed by these populations (agriculture and pastorals) had a considerable influence on the course of their growth and development processes, resulting in the differences in general physique between early farmers and herders.

The above suggestions, hinted at also in earlier works (Krenz-Niedba³a 1999, 2000; Piontek 1995, 1999, 2001; Vanèata 1997) have been partly corroborated (although due to the scarcity and differentiation of skeletal material this is not fully documented) by the analysis of the development profiles of the diaphyses of subadult 70 J. Piontek, B. Jerszyñska, S. Segeda skeletons of early farmers and herders from Ukraine. In our opinion, a research of larger groups of subadult skeletons in the framework of the research programme we have proposed would be conducive to more precise verification of our hypothesis on the distinct effects of agricultural and pastoral adaptive strategies on growth and development processes in prehistoric populations.


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