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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Arthur, N., Gowland, R. L. & Redfern, R. C. (2016). Coming of age in Roman Britain: osteological evidence for pubertal timing. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 159(4): 698-713.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Objectives:
Puberty is a key transitional phase of the human life course, with important biological and social connotations. Novel methods for the identification of the pubertal growth spurt and menarche in skeletal remains have recently been proposed (Shapland and Lewis, 2013, 2014). In this study we applied the methods to two Romano-British cemetery samples (1st-early 5th centuries AD) in order to investigate the timing of puberty during this period and further assess the veracity of the methods.

Materials and Methods:
Shapland and Lewis' methods (2013, 2014) were applied to 38 adolescents (aged 8–20 years) from the British cemetery sites of Roman London (1st-early 5th centuries AD) and Queenford Farm, Oxfordshire (4th-early 5th centuries AD).

Results:
Overall, the Romano-British males and females experienced the onset of puberty at similar ages to modern European adolescents, but subsequently experienced a longer period of pubertal development. Menarche occurred between the ages of 15 and 17 years for these Romano-British females, around 2 to 4 years later than for present-day European females.

Discussion:
The observed Romano-British pattern of pubertal timing has various possible explanations, including exposure to environmental stressors in early urban environments. The pattern of pubertal timing is largely congruent with social age transitions alluded to in ancient texts and funerary evidence for this period. While there are limitations to the application of these techniques to archaeological samples, they were successfully applied in this study, and may have important implications for understandings of past life courses, as well as providing a long-term perspective on pubertal timing and biocultural interactions.