New insights into the manual activities of individuals from the Phaleron cemetery (Archaic Athens, Greece)

Fotios Alexandros Karakostis, Jane E. Buikstra, Eleanna Prevedorou, Elizabeth M. Hannigan, Jessica Hotaling, Gerhard Hotz, Hannah Liedl, Konstantinos Moraitis, Thomas J. Siek, Lukas Waltenberger, Kerri J. Widrick, Katerina Harvati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Until the early 5th century BC, Phaleron Bay was the main port of ancient Athens (Greece). On its shore, archaeologists have discovered one of the largest known cemeteries in ancient Greece, including a range of burial forms, simple pits, cremations, larnaces (clay tubs), and series of burials of male individuals who appear to have died violent deaths, referred to here as “atypical burials”. Reconstructing the osteobiographies of these individuals will help create a deeper understanding of the socio-political conditions preceding the rise of Classical Athens. Here, we assess the habitual manual behavior of the people of Archaic Phaleron (ca. 7th – 6th cent. BC), relying on a new and precise three-dimensional method for reconstructing physical activity based on hand muscle attachment sites. This approach has been recently validated on laboratory animal samples as well as on recent human skeletons with a detailed level of long-term occupational documentation (i.e., the mid-19th century Basel Spitalfriedhof sample). Our Phaleron sample consists of 48 adequately preserved hand skeletons, of which 14 correspond to atypical burials. Our results identified consistent differences in habitual manual behaviors between atypical burials and the rest. The former present a distinctive power-grasping tendency in most skeletons, which was significantly less represented in the latter (p-values of <0.01 and 0.03). Based on a comparison with the uniquely documented Basel sample (45 individuals), this entheseal pattern of the atypical burials was exclusively found in long-term heavy manual laborers. These findings reveal an important activity difference between burials typical for the Phaleron cemetery and atypical burials, suggesting that the latter were likely involved in distinctive, strenuous manual activities. The results of this pilot study comprise an important first step towards reconstructing the identity of these human skeletal remains. Future research can further elucidate the occupational profiles of these individuals through the discovery of additional well-preserved hand skeletons and by extending our analyses to other anatomical regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105415
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume131
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Archaic Greece
  • Entheses
  • Hand muscle attachments
  • Physical activity
  • Three-dimensional multivariate analysis
  • V.E.R.A. method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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