Maternal mortality or prolonged growth: age at death and pelvic size in three prehistoric Amerindian populations

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1994 Sep;95(1):27-40. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330950103.


This study evaluates the relationship between age at death and pelvic size among adults in three prehistoric Amerindian populations. The issue is to identify if the pelvis continues to grow and remodel in adulthood, or if there is differential survivorship among adults, particularly among females, based on pelvic size. The samples used in this study are Indian Knoll, Pecos Pueblo, and Libben. Twenty-one measures of the pelvis are analyzed. A correlational analysis among individuals 18 years of age and older shows that the subpubic angle narrows with advancing age in both sexes. The suggested etiology is osteophytic growth on the ischiopubic ramus among older adults. A two-sample test comparing younger (ages 18-24) and older (25 years of age and older) adults shows that the linea terminalis (which represents the pubic and iliac components of the pelvic inlet) is significantly shorter in the younger age group, but this pattern is seen only in females. Two interpretations are consistent with this result. First, a female with a short linea terminalis (i.e., small pelvic inlet) may have died at a young age due to childbirth-related complications. In prehistory, maternal mortality may have been a leading cause of death, with pelvic inlet capacity being a determinant of survivorship among parturients. Second, the linea terminalis may be unique by continuing to grow in early adulthood in females but not in males; the growth occurs at the medial border of the pubis. Longitudinal growth studies of modern humans provide support for the second interpretation. The selective advantage of a later age at maturation of the pubis in females than males is that the period of growth is prolonged, thereby contributing to sexual dimorphism in pubic length and, correspondingly, linea terminalis length and pelvic inlet circumference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Death*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American*
  • Male
  • Maternal Mortality
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Pelvis / anatomy & histology*
  • Pelvis / growth & development
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tennessee