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Cross-sectional geometry in the humeri of foragers and farmers from the prehispanic American Southwest Exploring patterns in the sexual division of labor.

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Cross-Sectional Geometry in the Humeri of Foragers
and Farmers From the Prehispanic American Southwest:
Exploring Patterns in the Sexual Division of Labor
Marsha D. Ogilvie1,2* and Charles E. Hilton2,3
Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131
Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712
Department of Anthropology, Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA 50112
Lower Pecos; Pottery Mound; humerus; biomechanics
The work effort of prehistoric males relative to females has long been of interest to anthropologists, particularly in foraging versus farming groups.
This knowledge requires a clear understanding of the
sexual division of labor, or the dichotomy in subsistence
roles allocated to males and females. Such research in
the Prehispanic American Southwest has been limited.
As previous work has shown that bone is the osseous
template that reflects in vivo activity levels, it is possible
to assess gender-based differences in past work effort
using analyses of geometric properties of bone and calculations of bilateral asymmetry. Our research comparatively analyzed upper limb work effort by sex and subsistence in two skeletal samples from disparate economic
groups, foragers and farmers, both from similar desert
The division of labor by sex (SDL) is a key element of
social organization seen in all human societies. Documenting its manifestations cross-culturally helps provide
a greater anthropological understanding of male and
female social roles within different societies, particularly
those roles related to subsistence and economic contributions. In the American Southwest ethnohistoric records
and ethnographic studies provide valuable information
on the sexual division of labor and the level of work
effort for recent traditional foragers and farmers. However, for the Prehispanic American Southwest there is
lively discussion regarding the levels of work effort associated with the economic contributions of women and
men for both past foraging and farming cultural groups
(Crown, 2000). While patterns in the SDL across foragers and farmers from different regions of the world have
been investigated using skeletal remains (Ruff et al.,
1984; Ruff, 1987, 1999; Bridges, 1989, 1995; Ruff and
Larsen, 1990; Fresia et al., 1990; Molleson, 1994; Larsen
et al., 1995; Pearson, 2000; Bridges et al., 2000; Carlson
et al., 2007), few studies have examined patterns of
physical workloads for desert-adapted Prehispanic
Southwestern women and men in foraging versus farming groups (Ogilvie, 2000, 2004, 2005). A lack of research
on this topic for the Prehispanic American Southwest is
due mostly to the limited availability of forager skeletal
samples. Previous SDL studies examining skeletons
from this region have focused primarily on lower limb
bone strength in order to evaluate patterns of mobility
and sedentization in women and men from farming
groups (Ruff, 1981, 1987, 1999; Ruff and Hayes, 1983a,b;
Ogilvie, 2000). Few studies of Prehispanic Southwestern
C 2010
environments. The residentially mobile foragers are from
the Lower Pecos region of southwest Texas and the farmers are from the aggregated pueblo of Pottery Mound in
south central New Mexico. Humeri from 27 adult foragers (n 5 11 males; n 5 17 females) and 65 adult farmers
(n 5 38 males; n 5 27 females) were selected for study.
All humeri were radiographed and/or scanned and digitized. Statistical comparisons using two-way ANOVAs
indicate that female farmers exhibited the greatest humeral strength and the least asymmetry. Relative to all
other groups examined, female farmers engaged in
higher levels of upper limb work effort implying a substantial economic contribution to their agricultural econV 2010
omy. Am J Phys Anthropol 144:11–21, 2011.
Wiley-Liss, Inc.
skeletal samples have specifically examined the patterns
of humeral strength as a reflection of upper limb workloads across foraging versus farming groups. Bridges
(1989, 1995) and colleagues (Bridges et al., 2000) indicated that for certain tasks prehistoric agricultural production placed greater physical demands on farmers relative to foragers. Different economic strategies can have
contrasting sex-specific upper limb task assignments and
those contrasts may be associated with different physical
workloads within each sex (Brown, 1970; Murdock and
Provost, 1973; Ember 1983). Such contrasts in economic
strategies beg the question, were workloads for women
or men more physically strenuous among Southwest foragers or Southwest farmers? Our paper examines humeral cross-sectional geometric properties (CSGPs) as a
reflection of biomechanical loading in order to assess the
Grant sponsors: University of New Mexico Department of Medicine, College of Arts and Sciences, Office of Graduate Studies, Vice
President’s Office of Research, Office of Graduate and Professional
Student Association, Student Research and Allocation Committee,
and the Department of Anthropology.
*Correspondence to: Marsha D. Ogilvie, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131.
Received 3 March 2010; accepted 24 May 2010
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21362
Published online 10 September 2010 in Wiley Online Library
levels of upper limb physical workloads of women and
men in Prehispanic Southwestern foragers versus farmers. The CSGP values quantify the robusticity or resistance of long bone diaphyses to biomechanical loading
regimes thus providing an indication of physical activity
levels. Such application of mechanical principles to
human long bone CSGPs in conjunction with archaeological and ethnographic evidence can provide a valuable
approximation for indirectly reconstructing past lifeways
of prehistoric human groups and assessing habitual
physical workloads and activity patterns (Ruff, 2008).
Our comparisons are made between Archaic forager skeletons from the Lower Pecos region of Texas and Pueblo
IV farmer skeletons from Pottery Mound, New Mexico.
Sample background
This research was designed to explore patterns in the
sexual division of labor among desert-adapted foragers
and farmers in the Prehispanic American Southwest
using humeral rigidity and robusticity as a framework.
We compared mean values of humeral CSGPs for male
and female forager skeletons from the Lower Pecos
region of southwest Texas to farmer skeletons of Pottery
Mound Pueblo in central New Mexico. Both the residentially mobile Lower Pecos foragers (LP) and the farmers
from the aggregated pueblo of Pottery Mound (PM) lived
in areas adjacent to the Rio Grande, but at different
points along the river’s course. Upper limb activities
that would have been performed by males and females
from both foraging and farming groups have been reasonably inferred through several lines of archaeological,
ethnohistoric, and ethnographic evidence.
Lower Pecos foragers
The Lower Pecos (LP) cultural region contains some of
the most distinctive archaeological sites and cultural
artifacts in Texas. The residentially mobile foragers traversed the arid landscape of the Lower Pecos river region
of southwest Texas where agriculture was never prehistorically incorporated into the economy. Hundreds of
caves and overhangs provided shelter for the small
bands of foragers who inhabited this area. The burials
we examined were derived from dry rock shelters dating
to the late Archaic, ca. 2300–1300 YBP (Turpin, 1991,
The Rio Grande, Devils’, and Pecos Rivers provided
reliable water sources, critical in this arid setting.
Repeated use sites near such critical resource locations
attest to seasonally fluctuating hunting and gathering
forays (Marmaduke, 1978; Binford, 1980). Palynological,
paleofecal, isotopic, and dental microwear studies indicate that sotol (Dasylirion texanum), agave (Agave scabra), prickly pear (Opuntia phaecantha), and lechuguilla
(Agave lechuguilla) were mainstays in the Pecos diet for
thousands of years (Bryant, 1974, 1986a,b; WilliamsDean, 1978; Hartenady and Rose, 1991; Huebner, 1991,
1995; Danielson and Reinhard, 1998; Dering, 1999). Faunal remains suggest that larger hunted animals, such as
white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginus), raccoon (Procyon
lotor), and coyote (Canis letrans), were taken in low frequency. Based on recovered faunal remains, the majority
of meat came from smaller animals, such as rodents and
lagomorphs (Huebner, 1995).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
The sexual division of labor in the Pecos region is projected from ethnoarchaeological observations of living
people in the vicinity (Kludt, 2006) and pictographs
coupled with ethnographically documented cases of task
specificity in male and female desert adapted huntergatherers (Shafer, 1986c; Dering, 1999). Preserved digging sticks are thought to have aided women in the
extraction of sotol, agave and other roots in a manner
similar to that documented ethnographically for other
Southwestern desert-adapted foragers (Shafer, 1986c;
Fowler and Rhode, 2006). Women are thought to have
utilized circular bedrock mortars, found throughout the
canyons, as pounding and grinding locations for pigments, mesquite beans, and other seeds. Wooden artifacts similar to throwing sticks are thought to be associated with rabbit drives, an activity that ethnographically
has been shown to involve the participation of men,
women, and children. Thousands of burned rock middens
with the charred remains of sotol and lechuguilla provide evidence of desert succulent processing, a labor-intensive task requiring the participation of both males
and females (Brown, 1991; Vierra, 1998; Dering, 1999;
Fowler and Rhode, 2006). Ethnoarchaeological observations of living groups in the vicinity support this
archaeological evidence (Fowler and Rhode, 2006; Kludt,
Desert succulents also provided the raw material for a
flourishing fiber industry (Shafer, 1986a; McGregor,
1992). Fiber was used for weaving everything from technological items and clothing (Shafer, 1986b; McGregor,
1992). Well-preserved woven artifacts, from burden baskets to mats and clothing indicate use of fiber for weaving, an activity often performed predominately by
women (McGregor, 1992).
Excellent chert sources for lithic production were
abundant in the local environment (Hester, 1986). Wellpreserved atlatls and darts, presumably used in hunting
larger bodied prey, are portrayed with male hunters and
shamen in numerous canyon pictographs (Kirkland and
Newcomb, 1967; Schmidly, 1977; Turpin 1990; Boyd,
2003). With the exception of stylistic changes in projectile points, the basic tool kit apparently remained
adequate through the Archaic period for use in a foraging subsistence economy (Dibble and Prewitt, 1967;
Hester, 1986).
Pottery Mound farmers
The late prehistoric farmers (PM) are derived from the
large aggregated community of Pottery Mound in central
New Mexico (Hibben, 1975; Cordell, 2007). Pottery
Mound was occupied during the Pueblo IV period (ca.
700–500 YBP), and abandoned with the Spanish entradas in A.D. 1540 (Hibben, 1975; Schroeder, 1979). The
site was positioned in an ecotone that provided arable
soil for agriculture with nearby high quality wild plant
and animal resources (Emslie and Hargrave, 1978;
Emslie, 1981). The Rio Puerco, a tributary of the Rio
Grande, provided a permanent water source (Hibben,
1955, 1975). Intensive maize agriculture with specialization of food processing was practiced at Pottery Mound
(Cordell, 1997, 2007; Wills et al., 1994). Investment in
massive architecture and a large burial population provide supporting evidence of a sedentary lifeway with permanent ties to one location (Schorsch, 1962; Wills,
1988a,b; Wills and Huckell, 1994; Cordell, 2007).
Unique insight into the sexual division of labor comes
from over 800 spectacular kiva murals depicting male
and female subsistence activities (Vivian, 1961; Brody,
1964; Hibben, 1975). The economic roles of males and
females documented in the ethnographic and ethnohistoric literature are clearly seen in the prehistoric
kiva mural depictions (Ellis, 1979; Kennard, 1979;
Schaafsma, 2007a,b). Ethnographic and ethnohistoric
documentation indicates that Puebloan women using a
wide variety of grinding implements were heavily
involved not only in maize processing, often for 6–8 h
per day, but also the grinding of various seeds and pigments (Basso, 1979; Ellis, 1979; Kennard, 1979; Lancaster, 1986; Kamp, 2002). Similar grinding implements
have been excavated from Pottery Mound (Schaafsma,
2007a). Ethnohistoric observations and mural tabloids
document that Puebloan females carried burden baskets
for wild plant collecting trips, cared for children, prepared foods, transported fuel and water, and produced
pottery (Hibben, 1975; Basso, 1979; Ellis, 1979; Crown,
2000, 2002; Schaafsma, 2007a,b). Ethnohistoric observations document that Puebloan women also traveled into
surrounding montane zones for collecting piñon nuts
(Pinus edulis) and other wild plant resources (Adams
and Fish, 2006; Fowler and Rhode, 2006).
Paintings of male hunting pursuits are supported by
the over 10,000 recovered faunal remains brought into
the site from nearby grasslands and mountain zones
(Emslie and Hargrave, 1978; Clark, 2007). Mule deer
(Odocoileus hemionus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Merriam’s elk (Cervus merriami), bighorn
sheep (Olgas kenadensus), and pronghorn antelope
(Antilocapra americana) are represented (James, 2006;
Clark, 2007). Antelope drives were historically documented in the nearby Puerco Valley (Wills, personal
communication, 1991). Archaeological evidence indicates
that men pursued these medium to large-bodied prey
with bow and arrow (James, 2006; Schaafsma, 2007b).
Ethnobiological research also identified over 50 species
of birds in the avifauna assemblage, many seen in mural
depictions (Emslie and Hargrave, 1978). It is thought
that during the Late Prehistoric period, field preparation
and crop tending greatly reduced the total time males
allotted for long distance mobility in favor of more sedentary farming duties (Ellis, 1979; Kennard, 1979;
Schaafsma, 2007a,b). The reduction in residential mobility with year-round site occupation made it possible for
all members of the group to make labor contributions in
this highly specialized prehistoric farming community.
Study specimens
The Lower Pecos skeletons are curated at the Texas
Archeological Research Laboratory (University of Texas
at Austin) and the Witte Museum (San Antonio, TX).
The Pottery Mound skeletons are curated at the Maxwell
Museum of Anthropology (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque). Humeri of 28 foragers (males, n 5 11;
females, n 5 17) and 65 farmers (males, n 5 38; females,
n 5 27) were examined. In most cases both left and right
humeri were included but individual skeletons preserving only a single humerus (foragers: males, 1, females, 9;
farmers: males, 3, females, 3) are included in the above
sample totals. The distribution of rights and lefts among
the unilateral humeri for the Lower Pecos females is
approximately even (4 left; 5 right). In the other three
samples the distribution of rights and lefts among the
unilateral humeri is also approximately even.
Humeri were selected on the basis of completeness,
lack of pathological involvement, and the availability of
associated pelvic and cranial remains for sex and age
assessment. Standard osteological techniques for sex and
age assessments follow Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994).
As developmentally complete bone length measurements
are required for size standardization, only skeletally
mature adults were included. An upper age limit of 50
years was set to reduce the dramatic effects of more
extreme age-related bone changes, as documented by
Ruff and Hayes (1983b). All humeral specimens are
derived from partial skeletons except for two Lower
Pecos females who are each represented by an isolated
humerus from the same set of commingled remains. For
these two isolated Lower Pecos humeri, age is based on
epiphyseal fusion and sex assessment is based on humeral head dimensions.
Length measurement (mm), section location, and anatomical orientation of all humeri examined correspond to
those described by Ruff and Larsen (1990) and Ruff
(2002). The section location of 35% from the distal end of
the humerus was selected as it avoids complications
posed by the deltoid tuberosity and the flexor and extensor ridges. The 35% location was determined for each
humerus and marked accordingly.
Cross-sectional properties
The majority of long bone cross-sectional images were
obtained using computed tomography with procedures
noted by Ruff and Leo (1986). All Pottery Mound humeri
were scanned with a Picker PQ CT machine, Model
2000, housed at the Department of Radiology at the University of New Mexico Hospital. The humeri of 18 Lower
Pecos individuals were scanned with a General Electric
Highlight Advantage Scanning System housed at Austin
Radiological Associates.
Humeri from ten Lower Pecos individuals (4 males; 6
females) could not be removed for CT scanning. Instead,
bi-planar radiographs were taken with a Vet-Ray, Inc.
model VR8020 portable machine using procedures outlined by Trinkaus and Ruff (1989) and O’Neill and Ruff
(2004). For these specimens, silicone putty (Cuttersil
Putty Plus, Hereaus Kulzer, Inc.) was used at the 35%
section location to construct molds defining the subperiosteal surface (Trinkaus et al., 1994). Before removal of
molds, anatomical planes of orientation were marked on
each mold. Endosteal contours were determined for each
anatomical plane in order to document mediolateral and
anteroposterior cortical thickness for each humeral 35%
section location. With respect to the cross-sectional variables described below, O’Neill and Ruff (2004) found
errors in estimation of cross-sectional properties of less
than 5% when using the radiographic/mold method.
All cross-sectional images, derived from both radiographs and scans, were subsequently photographed and
digitized using a Summagraphics digitizing tablet. The
software program SLICE (Nagurka and Hayes, 1980;
Eschmann, 1992) computed sectional property values of
the digitized cross-sections. Quantitative geometric and
structural property measurements consist of areal and
second moments of area (SMAs) variables. Cross-sectional properties as related to bone biomechanics follow
those described by Ruff and Hayes (1983a,b).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Areal variables include total area (TA) and cortical
area (CA). TA is the total subperiosteal area incorporating both the cortical and medullary areas of a long bone
diaphysis. CA measures the strength or resistance of the
cross-section to tensile or compressive loadings but is
less mechanically informative as CA does not measure
bone distribution. Thus, it is necessary to evaluate resistance to the more critical biomechanical loadings, i.e.,
bending and torsion, across the long bone elements (Ruff
et al., 1993). Second moments of area, i.e., Imax, Imin, Iy,
Ix, and J, measure long bone rigidity under bending and
torsion. These SMA variables are calculated as the sum
of the products of small unit areas of the cross-section
and the squared distance of these areas from either the
centroid or an axis running through the centroid. I-values measure rigidity under bending along anatomically
defined axes of a cross-section (Ruff and Hayes, 1983a,b;
Ruff et al., 1993). Bending rigidity about the mediolateral axis (in the anteroposterior plane) is measured
using Ix while Iy measures bending rigidity about the
anteroposterior (in the mediolateral plane) axis. The polar moment of area, J, measures resistance to torsional
loadings. It is calculated around the centroid of the
cross-section as the sum of any two second-moment properties perpendicular to each other, e.g., Ix and Iy or Imax
and Imin. The variable J is also an indicator of average
bending rigidity in both anatomical planes. The variables, Imax and Imin, measure maximum and minimum
bending rigidity, respectively, of a bone cross-section.
Size standardization
Prior to statistical comparisons, CSGP values were
standardized for differences in body size and shape. One
concern is the possible difference in body shape between
the two samples as different relationships between body
mass and stature resulting from ecogeographical patterning or other factors may unduly influence CSGP values.
Auerbach and Ruff (2004) have noted that femoral head
size is related to body mass and femoral length to stature. A comparison of femoral A/P head diameter versus
femoral length was undertaken to test for differences in
body shape across the samples (Ogilvie, 2000). Log/log
plots of these variables confirmed similar size ranges and
analyses of variance failed to show significant shape differences across the samples (see Ogilvie, 2000, Table 5.1).
These results are not surprising as Ruff (1999) noted
that Native American groups exhibit small differences
with respect to variation in body breadth to height, particularly in comparison to the differences seen between
tropical and higher latitude populations. Additionally,
these samples from the Prehispanic American Southwest
should share similar genetic background as they predate
the migration of Athabascans into the region. The CSGP
values were size-standardized following procedures used
by other researchers (Ruff et al., 1993; Bridges et al.,
2000; Stock and Pfeiffer, 2001; Rhodes and Knusel, 2005;
Carlson et al., 2007) by using bone length3 for total subperiosteal and cortical areas, and length5.33 for the
SMAs. These values were multiplied by 107 and 1011,
respectively, for the resultant values.
Bilateral asymmetry
Ethnographic and ethnohistoric documentation suggest different patterns of uni-manual versus bi-manual
upper limb activities within the context of the sexual diAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
vision of labor in each subsistence group. Our analysis
uses the percent difference in humeral bilateral asymmetry as an indicator, within each subsample, of the predominance of uni- versus bi-manual tasks, regardless of
right-side or left-side dominance. Low values of bilateral
asymmetry percent differences are suggestive of a
greater frequency of bi-manual activities whereas high
values suggest more uni-manual activities. The percent
difference in bilateral asymmetry in cross-sectional variables was calculated for each individual preserving bilateral pairs within each sub-sample using the formula:
[(Maximum 2 Minimum)/Minimum] 3 100. As noted by
Rhodes and Knusel (2005) this formula has several
advantages. It helps remove the influence of right-hand
dominance as we are interested in evaluating the predominance of uni- versus bi-manual activities. It also
avoids the problem encountered when averaging positive
and negative numbers where the strength of right-side
dominance positive values is negated by left-side dominance negative values.
Statistical procedures
For each skeleton that preserved paired humeri, we
calculated an average for each CSGP variable for that
individual. The mean CSGP values for our expanded
samples that included individuals preserving both single
humeri and bilateral pairs differed from the samples
using only bilateral pairs mostly in the significant digits
used for rounding but in most instances the final value
of the rounded number did not change. We analyzed all
CSGP variables for both the expanded and reduced samples using two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) following procedures described in Sokal and Rohlf (1981) with
subsistence and sex as the two independent factors and
an a 5 0.05. Although P values differed between the
reduced and expanded analyses, in no instance did the
overall significance, or lack thereof, for any statistical
test change. Thus, for the analyses of the CSGP variables, we present the results using our expanded samples.
For analysis of bilateral asymmetry, only individuals
with paired left and right humeri were included (Ruff
and Jones, 1981). Bilateral asymmetry analyses also
employed two-way analysis of variance with subsistence
and sex as the two independent factors and an a 5 0.05.
As a follow-up for to a two-way ANOVA test with a significant interaction effect, we conducted direct comparisons between sexes (within groups) and groups (within
sexes) using post-hoc t tests with an a 5 0.05.
Tables 1 and 2 present the summary statistics of the
standardized CSGP and bilateral asymmetry variables
for the Lower Pecos (LP) and Pottery Mound (PM) males
and females, along with the associated P values for the
two-way ANOVA statistical comparisons. These analyses
indicate a number of key findings. First, the amount of
cortical bone, as measured by CA, is approximately the
same across the four samples (see Table 1). In contrast,
TA is significantly higher in the PM sample indicating a
more outward distribution of bone relative to the LP
sample. There is no significant sex effect, but there is a
significant sex/subsistence interaction, highlighting the
higher male relative to female value in the LP sample
compared with the higher female relative to male value
in the PM sample. This change in morphology is
TABLE 1. Comparison of humeral cross-sectional geometric properties in Lower Pecos foragers vs. Pottery Mound farmers
Lower Pecos foragers
Pottery Mound farmers
(n 5 17)
(n 5 11)
(n 5 27)
(n 5 38)
2-way ANOVA P values
Property :
Property: CA, cortical area; TA, total subperiosteal area; J, polar second moment of area; Imax, maximum bending rigidity; Imin,
minimum bending rigidity; Ix, second moment of area about M-L axis (A-P bending rigidity); Iy, second moment of area about A-P
axis (M-L bending rigidity); Imax/Imin, relative maximum to minimum bending rigidity; Ix/Iy, relative A-P/M-L bending rigidity.
TABLE 2. Comparison of humeral bilateral asymmetry in Lower Pecos foragers vs. Pottery Mound farmers
Lower Pecos foragers
CA% Asymmetry
TA% Asymmetry
J% Asymmetry
Imax% Asymmetry
Imin% Asymmetry
Ix% Asymmetry
Iy% Asymmetry
Pottery Mound farmers
2-way ANOVA P values
(n 5 8)
(n 5 10)
(n 5 24)
(n 5 35)
reflected in all of the second moments of area measures:
in every case, the PM sample is higher than the LP sample, and there is a significant sex/subsistence interaction
whereby greater male values in the LP sample are
replaced with greater female values in the PM sample.
Overall, this suggests an increase in humeral rigidity in
the PM sample, but these differences are driven by the
larger values among PM females.
Given the significant interactions for the comparative
tests seen in Table 1, we performed additional post-hoc
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
comparisons using t tests. In all robusticity measures,
Lower Pecos females have significantly smaller values
than Pottery Mound females (P \ 0.05, t tests). Lower
Pecos males and Pottery Mound males exhibit no significant differences in robusticity measures. Lower Pecos
females have significantly smaller values than Lower
Pecos males in all robusticity measures (P \ 0.05, t
tests), except for a nonsignificant difference in CA. For
Pottery Mound, females have significantly higher robusticity values than Pottery Mound males (P \ 0.05, t
tests), except for CA and Ix.
With regard to cross-sectional shape, there is no significant effect of subsistence or sex on Imax/Imin, although
there is a significant interaction term. This reflects a
shift from larger values (i.e., less circular sections) in LP
males to larger values in PM females, similar to the pattern found generally for second moments of area (see Table 1). Humeral Ix/Iy values show significant effects of
population, sex, and interaction with PM having lower
values (greater M/L relative to A/P rigidity), mainly due
to a lower value for PM females. Post-hoc tests indicate
no significant difference between the Lower Pecos
females and the Pottery Mound females for I max/I min
but a significant difference for Ix /I y. As for the
males, the I max /I min values are significantly different
whereas the I x /I y values are not. The within group
comparisons of the sexes for both I max /I min indicate
that the Lower Pecos females are not significantly different from the Lower Pecos males, nor are the Pottery Mound females significantly different from the
Pottery Mound males.
Analysis of asymmetry indicates that most of the
CSGP variables exhibit significant differences between
the subsistence categories and the sexes, but lack significant interaction effects (see Table 2). In general, LP foragers and males in both economies have more humeral
asymmetry than PM farmers and females (except for
CA, which again shows no sex or subsistence effects).
Our study was undertaken to investigate patterns of
humeral strength and robusticity, as well as to assess
the predominance of uni-manual versus bi-manual activities associated with the sexual division of labor in desert-adapted foragers and farmers of the Prehispanic
American Southwest. More importantly, our comparisons
of humeral cross-sectional geometric properties clearly
illustrate that the humeral diaphyses of Pottery Mound
farmer females are significantly stronger than the male
and female Lower Pecos foragers as well as the Pottery
Mound males. The most significant differences across
our samples are seen in maximum bending and torsional
strength, representing a bone’s resistance to dynamic
loading in that Pottery Mound females possess humeri
more resistant to greater levels of biomechanical loading
stress. Additionally, the results of our comparative bilateral asymmetry analyses demonstrate that Pottery
Mound females show the least humeral asymmetry.
These results support the interpretation of an earlier
analysis indicating that farmer women in the Prehispanic American Southwest engaged in high levels of
habitually strenuous bi-manual upper limb activities
(Ogilvie, 1993). The bilateral asymmetry values for each
of the four samples are consistent with the inferred
types of uni- and bi-manual manipulation of technologies
generally attributed to them through ethnohistoric, ethAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
nographic, and ethnoarchaeological evidence. While Pottery Mound female farmers exhibit the least asymmetry,
Lower Pecos male foragers exhibit the greatest. Asymmetry values for Pottery Mound male farmers and
Lower Pecos female foragers fall between these two
Humeral robusticity and asymmetry values in our
samples are consistent with ethnohistoric and ethnographic observations regarding the level of female work
intensity described for recent Southwest foragers and
Puebloan farmers (Basso, 1979; Ellis, 1979; Kennard,
1979; Ladd, 1979; Crown, 2000; Kamp, 2002; Fowler and
Rhode, 2006). Those accounts of Puebloan females suggest, even at a young age, they performed activities such
as burden carrying, childcare, child carrying, fuel gathering, water collecting, and food preparation. Corn grinding was one activity of particular importance for Prehispanic Puebloan farming females and their communities.
This bi-manual activity required intensive physical
energy and labor investment through upper limb manipulation of heavy grinding technologies (manos and metates) subjecting both humeri to intensive daily simultaneous symmetrical dynamic biomechanical loading for
extended hours. Corn processing of this type with its repetitive flexion and extension at both the elbows and
shoulders could take up to eight hours each day (Crown,
2000; Kamp, 2002).
The Pottery Mound male farmers exhibit the second
highest mean value associated with humeral bone
strength (J) although this value is not significantly different from the Lower Pecos males. Yet, Pottery Mound
males exhibit a 19% difference in humeral bone strength
asymmetry indicating that their agricultural labor
demands did not produce the same level of simultaneous
biomechanical loading for both humeri as that seen for
the Pottery Mound females. It is unclear whether the
level of humeral asymmetry in the Pottery Mound males
results from the effects of a single activity performed for
many hours, e.g., tool manufacture, or the cumulative
effects of a variety of predominately uni-manual activities. Artifacts excavated at Pottery Mound suggest bow
and arrow usage. Bow and arrow usage is believed to
place approximately equal peak loading demands on
both humeri (Bridges et al., 2000). Ethnographic and
videotape documentation of foraging activities (Hilton,
unpublished data), in conjunction with mobility and locomotor studies of living male and female Venezuelan foragers (Hilton, 1997; Hilton and Greaves, 2008), indicates
that during hunting trips bow and arrow usage does not
produce continuous upper limb loading for extended
hours but is sporadic and dependent upon encounters
with prey. Not surprisingly, other agricultural duties
may have had greater influence on the bone strength
and asymmetry values seen in the Pottery Mound males.
Those activities may have included stone tool manufacture as well as clearing, preparing, and maintaining
crop fields. Descriptions of soft hammer and pressure
flaking techniques associated with manufacturing lithics
(Whittaker, 1994) indicate, in many instances, asymmetrical loading of the upper limbs through preferential unimanual usage. Crop field work such as digging, planting,
and hoeing can require using agricultural implements
with more simultaneous bi-manual biomechanical loading of both humeri. Additionally, the periodic chopping of
firewood and the modification of wood logs for construction of above-ground room blocks would have produced
simultaneous and strenuous biomechanical loading of
the upper limbs. These activities may be additional factors that partially account for the cross-sectional patterns of the Pottery Mound males.
Mean robusticity (J) for Lower Pecos male foragers is
lower than that seen in the Pottery Mound male farmers
but not significantly different. The Lower Pecos males,
however, do exhibit the highest percentage of bone
strength asymmetry (34%), a value similar to those seen
for Neandertal, early Upper Paleolithic, late Upper Paleolithic, and some professional athlete samples (Ruff,
2000). Several predominant uni-manual activities,
including atlatl usage, may have contributed to the substantial asymmetry in the Lower Pecos males. Atlatl
usage generates substantial mechanical loading in only
one upper limb (Bridges et al., 2000; Whittaker and Hilton, 2003; Whittaker, 2010). However, atlatl usage was
also most likely episodic and dependent upon encounter
rates with prey. Other activities, such as uni-manual use
of throwing sticks (e.g., rabbit sticks) and lithic manufacture with soft-hammer and pressure-flaking techniques
most likely contributed also to asymmetrical humeral
biomechanical loading (Whittaker, 1994).
In terms of overall bone strength (J), Lower Pecos
female foragers exhibit the least robust humeri of these
samples but possess humeral asymmetry (18%) that falls
between the Pottery Mound females and males. This pattern of humeral gracility indicates that Lower Pecos
females had the least strenuous biomechanical loading
regimes in comparison to the other samples. Although
Lower Pecos females clearly would have engaged in a
range of uni- and bi-manual economic activities, archaeological artifacts suggest that these females had an economic activity repertoire that included use of digging
sticks, bedrock mortars for pounding, and the weaving of
plant fibers (Shafer, 1986c). These activities often
require the simultaneous use of both upper limbs but, in
this case, with less biomechanical force relative to the
corn grinding of the Pottery Mound females. In living
foragers, pounding and the use of digging sticks are
strenuous activities that are performed continuously for
several hours. To acquire underground resources, living
female Venezuelan foragers frequently use digging sticks
in long bouts ([5 h) of strenuous exertion of the upper
limbs as well as the upper body (Hilton, unpublished
data). Manipulation of a digging stick by living female
Venezuelan foragers often requires the upper limbs to be
configured in a manner similar to that used when paddling a canoe. Although both upper limbs provide force,
one predominant limb guides the tip of the digging stick
to a target area while the other limb provides additional
force (Hilton, unpublished data). During these long digging bouts, living female Venezuelan foragers routinely
switch hand position in order to avoid upper limb fatigue. In using bedrock mortars for pounding and grinding, Lower Pecos women are thought to have employed a
large stick or rock as a pestle in a manner similar to
that observed in living foragers (Fontana, 1983). This activity also involves the simultaneous use of both upper
limbs. In living foragers, females typically bi-manually
hold large wooden pestles in a vertical position while
raising and lowering the pestle with concentrated force
in order to pulverize food or other material in the mortar. The Lower Pecos females exhibit a pattern of humeral diaphyseal strength indicating that these strenuous
activities did not match the higher levels of biomechanical loading generated in the upper limbs of the Pottery
Mound females.
As restated by Shaw and Stock (2009), diaphyseal
robusticity values provide information on relative activity levels whereas shape indices provide information as
to the orientation of biomechanical loading. Comparisons
of the shape indices across our subsamples (see Table 1)
suggest different patterns of orientation in biomechanical loading between the Lower Pecos and Pottery Mound
females. The Ix/Iy values indicate that the Lower Pecos
females possess greater bending rigidity in the anteroposterior plane whereas the Pottery Mound females exhibit greater bending rigidity in the mediolateral plane.
Corn grinding for the Pottery Mound females generated
different orientation patterns of biomechanical loading
relative to digging for roots or pounding seeds by Lower
Pecos females. Corn grinding requires the bi-manual use
of a handheld groundstone (mano) against a flat grinding surface (metate). The elbow joints undergo repetitive
flexion and extension during corn grinding while the
forearms are pronated as the hands grasp a heavy
mano. Although a number of muscles can operate as
flexors and extensors of the elbow joint, only a few may
be relevant for the mid-distal humerus (35%) section.
Both M. brachialis, on the anterior aspect of the 35%
section, and M. brachioradialis, on the lateral aspect of
the 35% section, are especially more active as strong and
powerful elbow flexors when the forearm is in a semiprone or prone position against a held weight than without a weight (Basmajian and De Luca, 1985). The medial
head of M. triceps brachii originating on the posterior
aspect of the 35% section would act as an antagonist
during flexion (Basmajian and De Luca, 1985). We suspect that corn grinding requires a nuanced recruitment
of these muscles that contributes to the greater mediolateral bending rigidity at the humeral 35% section for
the Pottery Mound females.
Other studies have documented variability in measures of forager humeral cross-sectional geometric properties and our study adds additional documentation.
Churchill (1994) in an analysis of upper limb cross-sectional geometric properties and body shape in archaic
and modern humans concluded that some modern
humans, specifically Aleuts, exhibited higher upper limb
robusticity and attributed the pattern to bone remodeling associated with habitually strenuous kayak rowing
and use of atlatl projectile technology. In a comparative
study of upper and lower limb cross-sectional geometric
properties of Later Stone Age (11000–2000 BP) African
foragers (LSA) and 19th century Andaman Islanders
(AI), Stock and Pfeiffer (2001) demonstrated that upper
limb robusticity was greater in the AI sample relative to
the LSA sample. Upper limb differences were attributed
to the AI use of sea-faring vessels to procure maritime
resources whereas lower limb differences were attributed
to the LSA reliance on greater terrestrial mobility
related to the acquisition of wild land-based floral and
faunal resources. Weiss (2003a,b) documented greater
humeral robusticity in individuals from rowing populations relative to individuals from nonrowing populations
with sea-faring Aleut rower populations (including presumed nonrowing Aleut females) exhibiting the greatest
robusticity relative to river-rowers and nonrowers. Weiss
(2003b) attributes the pattern seen in Aleut females to
either a more arduous subsistence lifestyle, greater muscle mass associated with a northern latitude population,
or both. Carlson et al. (2007) compared measures of
cross-sectional geometric properties for a small sample of
prehistoric Aboriginal Australians to samples representAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
ing agricultural/industrial and industrialized populations. Carlson et al. (2007) found no evidence of Aboriginal Australians possessing elevated levels of post-cranial
robusticity relative to the other samples. Carlson et al.
(2007) did note that Aboriginal males possessed greater
upper limb robusticity relative to Aboriginal females.
This study and its relationship to understanding activity
levels is especially intriguing as ethnographers (Lourandous 1997; Peterson, 1999) have noted recently that, contrary to common perception, most Aboriginal Australian
societies were highly sedentary and colonial depictions of
Aboriginals as highly mobile provided partial justification for disenfranchising Aboriginals from their traditional land holdings.
With respect to studies comparing measures of crosssectional geometric properties across forager and farmer
samples, the work of Bridges and colleagues on prehistoric Eastern Woodland societies (Bridges, 1989, 1995;
Bridges et al., 2000) is particularly relevant. They documented higher humeral robusticity in farmers relative to
foragers of the prehistoric Eastern Woodlands, unlike
other studies comparing prehistoric foragers and farmers
(Fresia et al., 1990; Ruff and Larsen, 1990). Bridges et al.
(2000) noted that between the Middle Woodland and Late
Woodland periods the significant increase in female humeral strength of the Illinois River Valley was tied to the
intensified use of a spectrum of native seed crops not just
maize. Bridges et al. (2000) suggested that greater labor
intensification in association with female farming duties
occurred at a time when the demands of child-care are
thought to have increased due to a reduction in birthspacing. Most importantly, Bridges et al. (2000) highlight
the need to consider how different cultural adaptations,
through technology, social organization, or a combination
of both, affect the level of physical activities that lead to
variability in cross-sectional geometric property values.
Our study complements research that analyzed femoral
strength and robusticity within these two Prehispanic
Southwest samples and highlighted different patterns of
relative mobility between these two economic groups
(Ogilvie, 2000, 2004, 2005). In those studies, the Lower
Pecos foragers showed no significant differences in femoral structure between the sexes suggesting both males
and females participated equally in mobility related subsistence activities (Ogilvie, 2000, 2005). In fact, the only
year-round food-resources available to the Lower Pecos
foragers were desert succulents. High residential mobility
is implied by the necessity to travel to distant plant locations. Participation by both males and females would
have been required to perform this labor-intensive task
(Shafer, 1986c; Brown, 1991; Dering, 1999; Kludt, personal communication, 1999) but, surprisingly, with different overall levels of humeral biomechanical loading. The
Pottery Mound farmers exhibited cross-sectional geometric property patterns consistent with lower mobility relative to the Lower Pecos foragers, especially within the
Pottery Mound females (Ogilvie, 2000, 2005).
Our study contributes to the growing body of bone
cross-sectional geometric property literature indicating a
range of variation associated with humeral strength and
robusticity across human populations with contrasting
types of task specialization in association with different
traditional subsistence economies and the sexual division
of labor. Our comparative analyses imply that, relative to
foraging, the Prehispanic farming economy at Pottery
Mound required higher levels of humeral bone strength
for farmer females indicating intensification of upper
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
limb work effort. In certain instances, prehistoric males
from specific populations can also possess weaker humeri
relative to their female counterparts. Such patterns of
robusticity and gracility should be viewed as indicative of
male and female task specificity in association with different patterns of work effort across foragers and farmers
that can be localized to specific anatomical regions.
In conclusion, the Lower Pecos desert-adapted female
foragers possessed less robust humeri relative to Prehispanic Puebloan desert-adapted female farmers. These
humeral patterns in the foragers indicate lower levels of
biomechanical loading regimes and by extension less
strenuous economic activities relative to Pottery Mound
farmers who appear to have had greater humeral biomechanical loading in conjunction with agricultural intensification. These results are important because while it is
clear from ethnographic observations that living foragers
do lead physically active lifestyles and engage in strenuous economic activities, Prehispanic Southwestern farmers also had high levels of strenuous activities associated
with the upper limbs. Our results also indicate that the
high levels of upper limb physical labor in association
with female farming activities lend substantial support
for highlighting the economic contribution of women in
Prehispanic Puebloan farming communities. Our paper
supports the idea that for the Prehispanic American
Southwest, farming intensification, while leading to
more sedentism, placed higher habitual demands on
women’s upper body work effort than that of men, especially at a time when reduced birth spacing may have
placed greater demands on Puebloan female childcare
duties. Overall, it appears that the strenuous labor
intensification of upper limb activities in Prehispanic
Puebloan women made a substantial contribution to
underwriting the cost of farming at Pottery Mound. We
expect that continued documentation of cross-sectional
geometric properties will allow us to better understand
these nuanced aspects of prehistoric lifeways, cultural
adaptations, and gender-based activity patterns.
This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Charles
D. Ogilvie, friend, father, and inspiration. The authors
thank D. Creel and L. Nightengale of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas,
Austin, M. Haynes and B. McGregor of the Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas, and the Maxwell Museum
Laboratory of Human Osteology at the University of
New Mexico, Albuquerque for graciously allowing access
to the human remains housed at these institutions.
Imaging was provided by Drs. F. Mettler, Department of
Radiology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine,
and N. Rutledge, Austin Radiological Associates. The
authors express appreciation to E. Trinkaus, W. Wills, C.
Larsen, C. Ruff, O. Moneim, and J. Whittaker for their
expertise and assistance throughout different phases of
this project. They especially want to thank C. Ruff and
their anonymous reviewers for contributing to the robusticity of our manuscript.
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division, exploring, southwest, sexual, humero, cross, farmer, geometry, labor, sectional, patterns, prehispanic, american, foragers
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