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Objectives: The degree of sexual stature difference (SSD), the ratio of male to female height, is argued to be an indicator of living standards based on evidence that physical growth for males is more sensitive to environmental fluctuations. In a resource-poor environment, the degree of SSD is expected to be relatively low. The aim of this study is to comparatively assess SSD in medieval London in the context of repeated famine events and other environmental stressors before the Black Death (BD) and the improved living conditions that characterized the post-Black Death period.

Methods: To test the hypothesis that a poor nutritional environment resulted in decreased SSD in medieval London, this study compares adult individuals from early pre-Black Death (c. 1000–1200), late pre-Black Death (c. 1200–1250) and post-Black Death (c. 1350–1540) cemetery contexts from London. Maximum tibial,femoral, and lower limb lengths were used as a proxy for stature, and SSD was calculated using the Chakraborty and Majumber index.

Results: Compared to the late pre-BD period, we find a slighter higher degree of SSD in the post-BD period for all three stature proxies used. This increase is attributed to more exaggerated increases in stature for estimated males post-BD.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the importance of examining variables that are considered indicators of living standards in light of factors like selective mortality, catch-up growth, and urban migration patterns. Future research needs to further investigate how cultural and biological processes influence the mechanisms that produce adult stature.

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Brennan, E. J., & DeWitte, S. N. (2022). Sexual stature difference fluctuations in pre‐ and post‐black death london as an indicator of living standards. American Journal of Human Biology, 34(10).


© 2022 The Authors. American Journal of Human Biology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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