Variation in Ancient Egyptian Stature and Body Proportions

Variation in Ancient Egyptian Stature and Body Proportions
Sonia R. Zakrzewski*

Stature and the pattern of body proportions were investigated in a series of six time-successive Egyptian populations in order to investigate the biological effects on human growth of the development and intensi-
fication of agriculture, and the formation of state-level social organization. Univariate analyses of variance were performed to assess differences between the sexes and among various time periods. Significant differences were found both in stature and in raw long bone length measurements between the early semi-pastoral population and the later intensive agricultural population. The size differences were greater in males than in females. This disparity is suggested to be due to greater male response to poor nutrition in the earlier populations, and with the increasing development of social hierarchy, males were being provisioned preferentially over females. Little change in body shape was found through time, suggesting that all body segments were varying in size in response to environmental and social conditions. The change found in body plan is suggested to be the result of the later groups having a more tropical (Nilotic) form than the preceding populations. .

Which would suggest a group adapting to the local condtions, and not totally indigenous to the area.

This study found an increase in stature within Egyptians from the Predynastic until the start of the Dynastic period, followed by a later decline in height. The increase in stature with intensification of agriculture was predicted as a result of greater reliability of food production and the formation of social ranking. The later decrease in stature coincides with even greater social complexity, and is expected as it implies that the formation of social classes is allied to differential access to nutrition and healthcare, with the higher ranked individuals being preferentially treated and fed. This change in stature was much greater in males than in females. Long bone lengths also increased from the Badarian to the Early Dynastic periods more for males than for females, and again decreased to a greater extent through the OK and MK periods among males than females. This greater response to changes in socioeconomic status by males was previously described in modern children (Malina et al., 1985; Stinson,
1985). The present study thus supports the greater response to environmental stresses, including positive stresses, in males than in females. The present study suggests that changes in stature and body size occurred in Egypt with the development of social ranking, through a reflection of differential access to food and other resources. These results must remain provisional due to the relatively small sample sizes and the lack of skeletal material that cross-cuts all social and economic groups within each time period. Further research on recently excavated skeletal material is therefore needed to further address the issues raised.

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