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Title: The impacts of climate and the environment on human skeletal morphology during the Holocene in north China
Author: Siew, Yun Ysi
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 8216
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation investigates the temporal and regional variation in human skeletal morphology in relation to climate and the environment in Holocene China. Linking skeletal morphology to the changes in climate, subsistence strategy and socio-political development has been well-documented in various geographical areas. Although a general pattern has been observed among different populations, it is evident that local factors have played an equally important role in human morphological variation. China was chosen in this dissertation because its diverse geographical, historical and cultural background provides an ideal setting in which to elucidate human biological responses to a variety different external forces and stimuli. A total sample of 533 adult skeletons, spanning from the mid-Neolithic to the twentieth century, was examined. These skeletons represent the ancient agriculturalists, nomadic pastoralists and agropastoralists inhabiting in contemporary Northeast China and modern humans from South China. This dissertation uses body size and shape, entheseal expression and biomechanical properties of long bones to investigate: 1.) temporal patterns in postcranial dimensions, stature and body mass; 2.) regional differences between the northern and southern Chinese in body size and body/limb proportions; and 3.) variation in skeletal biomechanics and entheses in relation to subsistence strategy. The findings in this dissertation indicated that while the human skeletons studied were morphologically varied throughout Holocene China, they were, to some extent, correlated with climatic and environmental factors. Body size and shape and body/limb proportions corresponded with variation in temperature. Additionally, stature, body mass and entheseal expression were correlated with socio-political and cultural development. Nevertheless, entheseal expression unexpectedly did not show a straightforward relationship with subsistence strategy, in which is inconsistent with the findings of previous studies. Although the comparisons of biomechanical properties were not unequivocal, they suggest differences in mobility and mechanical loading between different populations and subsistence strategies. On the whole, the results suggested that variation in skeletal morphology of the Holocene Chinese follows the universal patterns on the one hand, while on the other, they were influenced by local environmental and behavioural factors.
Supervisor: Stock, Jay Sponsor: Cambridge Commonwealth Trust ; Wenner Gren Foundation (8186)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: biomechanical properties ; entheseal expression ; climatic adaptation