Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Ford, Susan

Second Advisor

Corruccini, Robert


This dissertation presents the results of a comparison of human skeletons from two historic villages (the Larson site, 39WW2, and the Leavenworth site, 39CO9), which were inhabited by Great Plains Village Horticulturalists following the arrival of Europeans and Americans. The people living at these villages are suspected to have experienced changes to their cultural practices, with Larson occupied during the beginning of the Post-Contact period and Leavenworth occupied just before the complete abandonment of the Plains Village lifeway. This study examines whether observed differences in the strength of the bones of their limbs resulted from different activities performed at each village or if the introduction of new genes may have altered limb bone shape during the Post-Contact period. The analysis relies on the examination of limb bone strength (cross-sectional properties) to identify patterns related to activities, but unlike previous studies that examine cross-sectional properties, this analysis includes a measure of biological distance to determine if biological kin share limb bone shape. The results indicate some general trends in limb strength during the Post-Contact period including a reduction in male lower limb bone strength and increased asymmetry in the lower limbs of the women at the later village, and many variables indicate greater variation in limb bone strength among women from both villages. While it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about activity, the patterns seem to support accounts from the archaeological and historic records regarding the introduction of new cultural practices and a reduction in mobility, especially among males. The interpretation that these patterns may result from changing activities is bolstered by the analysis of biological distance. Mantel results comparing biodistance scores based on odontometry and distance scores based on limb geometry indicate that intragroup pairwise distance scores rarely correlate, with the left humeri being the most consistent exception to this pattern. The left humeri (and potentially the radius and ulna) may exhibit similarities among related individuals due to these non-dominant bones receiving relatively less biomechanical stress during activities. A seeming paradox developed in the analysis when groups (male and female samples from each site) were compared. Unlike biodistance between individuals, the groups exhibiting the greatest genetic similarities also exhibit the greatest similarity in the cross-sectional shape of their right and left femora, right humeri, and right radii, with the mid-section of the femur exhibiting the most consistent correlation regardless of the side used in the analyses. These bones seem to be the ones experiencing the greatest biomechanical stress during activities. At the group level, shape for those bones experiencing a relatively high degree of biomechanical stress during activity seem to mirror genetic relationships. These correlations may result from a convergence between genetic patterns and activity patterns. Despite greater univariate variation within each sample, females across the two sites exhibit closer biological distances than do the males. This result may be due to both matrilocality, which creates less variation within the female population over time, and continuity in female activity over time. By contrast, males exhibit a greater degree of divergence, suggesting that males from each site are more genetically dissimilar than females and that they may have experienced a greater degree of change to their activities.




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