Changes in skeletal robusticity in an iron age agropastoral group: the Samnites from the Alfedena necropolis (Abruzzo, Central Italy)

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Jan;144(1):119-30. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21377. Epub 2010 Aug 17.


Cross-sectional geometrical (CSG) properties of an Iron Age Samnite group from the Alfedena necropolis (Abruzzo, Italy, 2600-2400 B.P.) are compared with a Ligurian Neolithic sample (6000-5500 B.P.). In the period under examination, Samnites were organized in a tribal confederation led by patrilinear aristocracies, indicating incipient social stratification. In comparison, Neolithic society lacked clear signs of social hierarchy. The subsistence of both groups was mainly based on pastoralism and agriculture, but changes in habitual behavior are expected due to the socio-economic transformations that characterized the Iron Age. The Samnites' warlike ideology suggests that unimanual weapon-use and training would have become frequent for males. The intensification of agriculture and the adoption of transhumant pastoralism, performed by a smaller subset of the population, likely led to a lower average level of logistic mobility. The strongly genderized ideology of the period suggests a strict sexual division of labor, with women primarily performing sedentary tasks. CSG properties based on periosteal contours were calculated for humeri, femora, and tibiae (N = 61). Results corroborated the expectations: Alfedena males show substantial humeral bilateral asymmetry, indicating prevalent use of one arm, likely due to weapon training. In both sexes lower limb results indicate reduced mobility with respect to the Neolithic group. Sexual dimorphism is significant in both humeral asymmetry and lower limb indicators of mobility. Although both groups could be broadly defined as agropastoral based on archeological and historical evidence, CSG analysis confirmed important differences in habitual behavior.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Anthropometry
  • Archaeology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Diaphyses
  • Female
  • Femur / anatomy & histology*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Humerus / anatomy & histology*
  • Italy / ethnology
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Sex Factors
  • Tibia / anatomy & histology*