The height disparity between males and females in northern Europe during the Early Neolithic (8,000–6,000 years before present) might not be solely attributed to genetic and dietary factors, according to a study published in Nature Human Behaviour. The research suggests a potential influence of cultural elements on height differences during this period.
In the contemporary world, the connection between culture and health is evident. However, understanding how this relationship developed remains uncertain. Height serves as an indicator of health, and deviations from expected genetic height could signify adverse environmental or dietary conditions. Previous studies proposed that individuals in the Neolithic era didn't attain their full genetic height potential, but regional and gender variations in this aspect were not well-explored.
Researchers, led by Samantha Cox, employed a multidisciplinary approach, utilizing ancient DNA, stable isotope analysis (revealing dietary habits), palaeopathology (indicating health status), and skeletal measurements. The study involved 1,535 Neolithic individuals from North Central, South Central, Balkan, and Mediterranean regions, dating back 8,000 to 6,000 years.
In North Central Europe, both sexes experienced high environmental stress, yet females exhibited lower stature despite having identical genetic scores to males. This suggests a potential cultural preference favoring male recovery from stress. Conversely, Mediterranean populations displayed a diminished difference between male and female stature, indicating a lack of cultural inclination to shield males from environmental stress impacts.
The findings underscore the role of cultural and environmental factors in shaping gender-based height differences across time. The study acknowledges limitations due to the availability of archaeological data but contributes valuable insights into understanding the complexities of Neolithic societies.
Source: Nature Publishing Group