Human Evolution

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 51–66 | Cite as

Methodological considerations on the study of sexual dimorphism in past human populations

  • S. M. Borgognini Tarli
  • E. Repetto


The degree of sexual dimorphism in human populations is influenced by stress, social role and by labour division. However, studies on ethnographic populations provided contradictory results. Unfortunately, most of these studies were based on stature only, which, as we could observe in a survey on pre-protohistoric circum-Medirerranean samples, is a poor indicator of functionally related dimorphism.

A number of skeletal measurements were examined: skull, stature, transverse trunk diameters, long bones length, circumference and section, in order to assess their usefulness as indicators of functionally related dimorphism. The best indicators were represented by section and circumference of the long bones of the limbs, followed by cross-shoulder breadth (biclavicular length), stature and limb bone length, facial measurements, cranial measurements and sacral breadth.

From the methodological point of view, it was found that:
  1. 1.

    It is better to calculate the index of dimorphism for each trait or set of traits within each sample. Then a weighted average of all the available samples is taken. The index derived from pooling a number of samples does not make biological sense. In pooled samples the distinction of between versus within sample differences is obscured;

  2. 2.

    It is better to combine an index which is based on the difference between averages and one which takes variability into account, because variability can also be an aspect of sexual dimorphism;

  3. 3.

    It is better to apply some allometric correction to the measurements used. For instance, the log transformation produces clearer trends of differential dimorphism among the various traits.



Sexual Dimorphism Physical Anthropology Facial Measurement Skeletal Sample Cranial Measurement 
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Copyright information

© Editrice II Sedicesimo 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. M. Borgognini Tarli
    • 1
  • E. Repetto
    • 1
  1. 1.Istituto di Antropologia e Paleontologia UmanaPisaItaly

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