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 …show more content…
Food gathering, butchering and carrying materials for fires and temporary shelters are all fairly short but high intensity physical exercise. Subsequently in hunter-gatherer populations there is a trend in the archaeological record for higher bone density and greater cortical bone thickness in cross section (Maggiano et al, 2008). The opposite is true of agricultural societies of the past. Activities involved with agriculture are often slow, repetitive low load level tasks such as weeding, sowing seeds and the picking and harvesting of crops (Bridges, 1989). These activities are mainly upper body activities and are more commonly associated with joint wear and osteoarthritis, which I will mention later. Muscle attachments are the sites on the bone where ligaments are anchored, these may become exaggerated in individuals with larger than average musculature. Based on the crude argument that hunter gatherers used leg muscles in day to day activities and agricultural peoples used their upper body in activity more it stands to reason that the respective muscle attachments would be enlarged. Molnar for example attempts to trace general as well as three specific prehistoric activities: archery, harpooning, and kayaking that are likely to have been performed in past populations from the Baltic sea area using assessment of
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