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Skeletal Variation among Mesolithic People of the Ganga Plains: New Evidence of Habitual Activity and Adaptation to Climate
Abstract

Rethinking new perspectives in South Asian archaeology necessitates wider appreciation for insights derived from the bioarchaeological analysis of prehistoric human skeletons. Since the 1970s, Mesolithic sites near Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) have yielded abundant well-preserved human skeletons permitting a bioarchaeological approach to past life-ways. Prior research on human remains from Sarai Nahar Rai and Mahadaha is supplemented by this analysis of human skeletal variation in 47 specimens from Damdama. This report examines skeletal variation in muscle attachment sites (entheses) and musculoskeletal stress markers, prevalence of osteoarthritis, long bone dimensions and proportions, and estimates of stature for the human skeletons from Damdama. The objective of this study is to better understand habitual activity patterns, variation in stature, and adaptation to climate among Mesolithic foragers of North India. Standardized methods of paleopathology, osteometry, and stature estimation were used. While most entheses displayed a ''normal'' range of development, those associated with bipedal locomotion and overhand throwing were especially well developed. Extreme hypertrophy of the soleal line indicates repetitious and forceful plantar flexion as in walking long distances, up hills, or with heavy loads. Hypertrophy of the supinator crest suggests forceful overhand throwing as in launching spears or projectiles. Osteoarthritis is unusually low in frequency, though spinal osteophytes and arthritis of the hand and elbow were observed. Stature is tall at Damdama, a trait shared with inhabitants of Sarai Nahar Rai and Mahadaha. Collectively, North Indian Mesolithic groups are significantly taller than Eastern or Western European Mesolithic samples. Long lower limbs may be an adaptation to locomotor efficiency, but may also reflect adaptation to high seasonal temperatures. Indices of distal to proximal limb segments for both upper and lower extremities conform to physiological principles of thermoregulation and suggest biological adaptation to a hot arid environment.