International Journal of Osteoarchaeology DOI: 10.1002/oa.991
Trends in adult stature of peoples who inhabited the modern Portuguese territory from the Mesolithic to the late 20th century
H. F. V. Cardoso, J. E. A. Gomes
Abstract This study documents long-term changes in stature from the Mesolithic to the late 20th century in the territory of modern Portugal. Data utilised originated from published sources and from a sample of the Lisbon identified skeletal collection, where long bone lengths were collected. Mean long bone lengths were obtained from 20 population samples and compiled into nine periods. Pooled long bone lengths for each period were then converted to stature estimates. Results show three major trends: (1) a slow increase in stature from prehistory to the Middle Ages; (2) a negative trend from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century; and (3) a very rapid increase in mean stature during the second half of the 20th century. The political and territorial stability of the Kingdom of Portugal may have contributed to the greater heights of the medieval Portuguese, compared with the Roman and Modern periods. The negative secular trend was rooted in poor and unsanitary living conditions and the spread of infectious disease, brought about by increased population growth and urbanisation. Although the end of the Middle Ages coincided with the age of discoveries, the population may not have benefited from the overall prosperity of this period. The 20th century witnessed minor and slow changes in the health status of the Portuguese, but it was not until major improvements in social and economic conditions that were initiated in the 1960s, and further progress in the 1970s, that the Portuguese grew taller than ever before. Since the Middle Ages other European countries have experienced similar oscillations, but showed an earlier recovery in stature after the industrial period.