Body Proportions in Ancient Andeans from High and Low Altitudes

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American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Living human populations from high altitudes in the Andes exhibit relatively short limbs compared with neighboring groups from lower elevations as adaptations to cold climates characteristic of high‐altitude environments. This study compares relative limb lengths and proportions in pre‐Contact human skeletons from different altitudes to test whether ecogeographic variation also existed in Andean prehistory. Maximum lengths of the humerus, radius, femur, and tibia, and femoral head breadth are measured in sex‐specific groups of adult human skeletons (N = 346) from the central (n = 80) and the south‐central (n = 123) Andean coasts, the Atacama Desert at 2,500 m (n = 102), and the southern Peruvian highlands at 2,000–3,800 m (n = 41). To test whether limb lengths vary with altitude, comparisons are made of intralimb proportions, limb lengths against body mass estimates derived from published equations, limb lengths against the geometric mean of all measurements, and principal component analysis. Intralimb proportions do not statistically differ between coastal groups and those from the Atacama Desert, whereas intralimb proportions are significantly shorter in the Peruvian highland sample. Overall body size and limb lengths relative to body size vary along an altitudinal gradient, with larger individuals from coastal environments and smaller individuals with relatively longer limbs for their size from higher elevations. Ecogeographic variation in relation to climate explains the variation in intralimb proportions, and dietary variation may explain the altitudinal cline in body size and limb lengths relative to body size. The potential effects of gene flow on variation in body proportions in Andean prehistory are also explored.


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