Human height in Milan hasn't changed since the Roman era, finds study

The remains of 549 people, spanning nearly 2,000 years of history, were analyzed.
Nergis Firtina
LABANOF anthropologists working on an archaeological skeleton of the CAL.
LABANOF anthropologists working on an archaeological skeleton of the CAL

Lucie Biehler-Gomez. 

The average height of people in Milan (Italy) has remained constant for the past 2,000 years, according to an analysis of the remains of more than 500 people buried in the city from the Roman Age to the twentieth century.

The study, published in Scientific Reports on February 23, discovered that, while height differed between individuals from different eras, the average height for both males and females did not alter considerably over time.

The remains of 549 males and females interred in Milan, spanning nearly 2,000 years of history, were examined by Mirko Mattia and colleagues from the University of Milan. 

Roman Era, Early Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages, Modern Era, and Current Era were among the eras covered in the study. According to items discovered in the tombs and historical information about the burial locations, it was recognized that the remains belonged to less affluent people.

Human height in Milan hasn't changed since the Roman era, finds study
Ancient Romans.

The height remained steady

The authors discovered that male stature ranged from 152 to 195.4 centimeters, with a mean of 168.5 centimeters. Females ranged in height from 143.5 to 177.6 centimeters, with a mean height of 157.8 centimeters. Male and female mean stature remained steady and did not differ considerably among eras.

The authors believe that Milan's somewhat superior living conditions to other locations could be the reason for the consistent trend in stature through time. The authors emphasize that records indicate that the region was rich in natural and food resources and that the city walls provided protection against potential attacks.

They concluded their study is a unique example of heights remaining constant in a community throughout millennia.

Study abstract:

Stature is a biological trait directly determined by the interaction of genetic and environmental components. As such, it is often evaluated as an indicator for the reconstruction of skeletal biological profiles, past health, and social dynamics of human populations. Based on the analysis of 549 skeletons from the CAL (Collezione Antropologica LABANOF), a study of the diachronic trend of male and female adult stature in Milan (Italy) is being proposed here, covering a time span of about 2000 years, ranging from the Roman era to present-days. The skeletons, from necropolises dedicated to the less wealthy classes of Milanese society, were assigned to one of following five historical periods: Roman Era (first–fifth centuries AD), Early Middle Ages (sixth–tenth centuries AD), Late Middle Ages (eleventh–fifteenth centuries AD), Modern Era (sixteenth–eighteenth centuries AD) and Contemporary Era (nineteenth–twentieth centuries AD), and their stature was estimated according to the regression formulae of Trotter (1970). The collected data were then subjected to statistical analyses with ANOVA using R software. Although stature values showed an ample standard deviation in all periods, statistical analyses showed that stature did not significantly vary across historical periods in Milan for both sexes. This is one of the rare studies showing no diachronic changes in the trend of stature in Europe.

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