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Assessing pubertal stage in adolescent remains: an investigation of the San Nicolás Maqbara burial site (Murcia, Spain)

Abstract

Despite its biological, social, and cultural importance, adolescence has been largely overlooked in historic groups as its measurement depends primarily on secondary sexual characteristics that cannot be observed in skeletal remains. Any information that can be obtained about this critical period permits for a better understanding of both life and death in historic populations. This study applies a newly outlined methodology by Shapland and Lewis (Am J Phys Anthropol 151:302–310, 2013; Am J Phys Anthropol 153:144–153, 2014) for assessing pubertal growth using osteological material to the San Nicolás Maqbara, a Hispano-Muslim burial site in the Spanish city of Murcia dating from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries AD. Despite an original sample of 80 adolescent skeletons, the methodology was applied to 54 individuals, of which 32 were assigned a pubertal stage. The San Nicolás adolescents experienced pubertal growth onset at a similar age to modern Spaniards but fell behind at achievement of peak height velocity (PHV). Delays in the attainment of later stages resulted in an extended adolescent growth period. Females progressed through the pubertal stages earlier and quicker than their male counterparts and were determined to be post-pubescent at 16–19 years of age while males had yet to reach this milestone in their late teenage years. As the developmental patterns of the San Nicolás adolescents appear to be quite similar to previously studied historic groups, it is suggested that the trends observed could be methodological artifacts or inherent to the study of osteological material.

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Correspondence to Danielle M. Doe.

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Doe, D.M., Rascón Pérez, J., Cambra-Moo, O. et al. Assessing pubertal stage in adolescent remains: an investigation of the San Nicolás Maqbara burial site (Murcia, Spain). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 541–554 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-017-0543-0

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Keywords

  • Medieval
  • Maqbara
  • Adolescence
  • Growth spurt
  • Menarche