Subsistence activities and the sexual division of labor in the European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic: Evidence from upper limb enthesopathies

  • Villotte S
  • Churchill S
  • Dutour O
 et al. 
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Studies of cultural artifacts and faunal remains from European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites indicate a shift in hunter gatherer subsistence strategies, involving an intensification and diversification of resource exploitation relative to earlier foragers during the Tardiglacial and Postglacial periods. This trend has been recognized as well through the analysis of non-pathological skeletal adaptations of the upper limbs of European Upper Paleolithic human fossils. These paleoanthropological studies of adaptive bone modeling also raise the question of female use of throwing-based weapon technology in the Upper Paleolithic. Here, we studied another type of osteological marker of activity, enthesopathies, of the upper limb remains of 37 European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic human fossils, with the goal of testing two hypotheses: 1) that activity levels were heightened at the end of Upper Paleolithic and into the Mesolithic relative to earlier foragers of the Gravettian, and 2) that there was an absence of a marked sexual division of labor in European hunter-gatherers during this time span. Our results are consistent with the first hypothesis; upper limb enthesopathies are significantly less frequent in the Gravettian group, but raise doubts about the second hypothesis. Four males exhibit lesions that can be confidently associated with throwing activities, while no females exhibit such lesions. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Activity markers
  • Early Holocene
  • Late Pleistocene
  • Musculoskeletal stress markers (MSM)
  • Projectile weaponry

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  • Sébastien Villotte

  • Steven E. Churchill

  • Olivier J. Dutour

  • Dominique Henry-Gambier

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