RE: International Women's Day; thoughts on Esther Goody's 1987 article

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Thu Mar 11 2004 - 13:02:39 PST

Thanks for your response, Mike. I'm hunting for the AA article you discuss.


Google found the URL below, which archives abstracts of articles in
American Anthropology. It offers these two abstracts of a 1981 article by
David W. Frayer, which looks like a good candidate for Mike's
reference. I've copied the abstracts from the site.

These abstracts don't happen to mention the study of the correlation
between human aggressive behavior and differential body size that Mike
remembers from the article (perhaps this isn't the same one), but an
interesting feature to note about this article is its exploration of a 1959
hypothesis by Brues that uses a social process (a particular technology) to
explain a biological change (physical stature). This hypothesis raised the
possibility that body morphology (it is unclear whether Brues focused on
just men, or both men and women) may have been influenced by the historic
shift from the spear to the bow in Europe. The overall problem apparently
being considered is skeletal evidence that suggests that the physical
stature of European Mesolithic hominids tended to be smaller than that of
their Paleolithic ancestors. Why was this so? According to the abstracts,
Frayer favors explanations regarding body size that revolve around climate,
size of prey and nutritional conservation over Brues' conjectures about the
influence of offensive weapons.

A comment I might toss in is that the Brues hypothesis has the ring of a
"single-cause" explanation, trying to reduce a complex process to a simple
cause, often a kind of thin ice to try to work on. One advantage of
looking for social explanations (and not just single technological or
biological causes) for historical development is that by nature they are
complex. Furthermore, by seeking to understand social explanations in
terms of socio-economic processes - how humanity interacts with nature as
well as itself - the relationship between the social and the biological
becomes essential, and well-framed so the issues of human and hominid
development can be understood in the materialist genetic-historical way
that Vygotsky strove for.

- Steve

Frayer, David W. Body Size, Weapon Use and Natural Selection in the
European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. American Anthropologist March,
1981 Vol.83(1):57-73.

Frayer tests the merits of an article published in 1959. The 1959 article
presented a model describing the relationship between body build and
offensive weapons. Frayer presents evidence from European Upper Paleolithic
and Mesolithic groups to test the contentions of the model.

The 1959 model states that two main weapon types, the spear and the bow,
were used before, during, and after the European Upper Paleolithic and the
Mesolithic. The model proposes that physique is correlated with better
ability to utilize specific types of hunting armaments. This is the notion
that a tall frame and long arms are better for using spears while short
arms and a compact frame are better for using a bow. The 1959 article
suggests that a shift from the use of spears to bows led to change in body
morphology. Frayer examines this hypothesis by looking at the lifestyle and
technology of hunters in the European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic, the
skeletal evidence from the archaeological record, and climate changes over

Although there was a reduction in body stature and limb size, Frayer states
that climate and the size of prey were the reasons for the changes. Frayer
suggests "the reduced metabolic demand of smaller individuals in the
Mesolithic, coupled with no selective pressure for maintaining large body
size, may be the reason for reduced overall body size from the Upper
Paleolithic to the Mesolithic." Frayer believes stature reduction was
selected for as a form of nutritional conservation.


BRAD HANSON Illinois State University (Robert Dirks)

Frayer, David W. Body Size, Weapon Use, and Natural Selection in the
European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. American Anthropologist 1981 83:

"In a paper appearing in this journal over 20 years ago, Brues (1959)
presented a model describing the relationship between body build and
offensive weapons." In this paper, Frayer represents Brues’ theory – that
the stature and physique of prehistoric hominids are directly related and
affected to the weapon type used – and uses the evidence found in the last
20 years to analyze its validity.

Brues argued in 1959 that the two principal weapons used by hunting
peoples, the spear and the bow, had a direct affect on the "laterality" and
"linearity" of their physical built. Basically, when hunters relied on the
spear for sustenance, Brues believes that they were taller and more robust.
A longer arm is required for speed and velocity of throwing a spear, while
the proximity to the prey required a longer frame for speed and agility. As
the bow was introduced, Brues theorized that the stature of the hominid
decreased, as a shorter arm with close, tight muscles are advantageous,
while the greater distance allowed less requires the physique for quick

Once clarifying Brues’ theory, Frayer proceeds to present the evidence
found, both before the publication of Brues’ article, as well as in the 20
years between them. He offers statistical data about the growth patterns of
both male and female skeletons found, and relates these findings to Brues’
theory. He includes other possible factors that could have had an impact on
the body size of these hominids, such as climate factors and nutritional
differences and diet.

Ultimately, Frayer summarizes that the "basic predictions of Brues
concerning the relationship between body build and weapon type are not
supported by data drawn from European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic
populations." He states that there are too many factors which could be the
cause of the decline in stature, and finalizes by stating that in a society
in which only the men hunt, the growth decline should have been more
apparent in men than women. This however, is untrue in the evidence provided.


MICHAEL FILLITER York University, Toronto (Naomi Adelson)


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