Using bones, teeth and joints for reconstructing activity in past human populations

Using bones, teeth and joints for reconstructing activity in past human populations

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During an individual’s lifetime the activities they involve themselves in impact on their many bodily tissues. Markers for these activities are left in the bones, joints and dentition which is useful for anthropologists as only skeletal material is left in the case of most ancient populations. Subsequently much research has been undertaken in this area with varying levels of validity.In this essay I seek to explain what information can be reliably gathered from skeletal material, it will focus on bone density and muscle attachments associated with heavy workloads, joint wear caused by repeated processes such as grinding grain, osteoarthritis and tooth wear associated with tool use. To aid this discussion I will detail the activity changes involved in the transition between a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and a sedentary agricultural lifestyle. I will also consider the strengths and weaknesses of this type of
reconstructory speculation, arguing that unless the aforementioned markers are
assessed in a non-subjective, quantifiable way the findings are not comparable to others displaying similar markers.

It has been well documented that according to Wolff’s law, bone is constantly
remodeling. Wolff's law states that bones within an animal will remodel due to the stress it is placed under. If stress on particular bones increase, bones will remodel over time becoming stronger, laying down bone tissue with higher levels of mineralisation. The opposite of this is also true, if the stress on a bone decreases, the bone will become weaker (Wolff, 1986). This correlates with the findings of Stock who reasons that ‘human skeletal robusticity is influenced by many factors, habitual
behaviour being the most important’ (Stock, 2006). ...

... middle of paper ...

...n the Georgia Coast. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 64,125-136.

Shackelford L.L., 2007. Regional Variation in the Postcranial Robusticity of Late Upper Paleolithic Humans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133, 655–668

Stock T. J., 2006. Hunter-Gatherer Postcranial Robusticity Relative to
Patterns of Mobility, Climatic Adaptation, and Selection for Tissue Economy. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131, 194-204.

Teaford M., 2005. Dental Microwear and Dental Function Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 3, 17 - 30

Valdes A.M., Spector T.D., 2008. The contribution of genes to osteoarthritis. Rheumatic Diease Clininics of North America 34, 581–603.

White T., 2000. Human Osteology. Academic Press, London.

Wolff J., 1986 The Law of Bone Remodeling. Springer, New York (translation of the German 1892 edition)

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