Developmental patterns of bilateral asymmetry in ancestral puebloans

Erin B. Waxenbaum*, Kendra A. Sirak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objectives: Producing and maintaining a bilaterally symmetric phenotype throughout the lifespan is energetically demanding. Over the course of an individual's life, various intrinsic and external stressors impact the growth trajectory. These perturbations can compromise the allocation of energetic resources to processes that maintain developmental precision, potentially resulting in bilateral asymmetry (BA). Because different stressors are present during the lifespan, BA is a valuable tool for examining the unique factors impacting symmetrical growth and development. This study examines BA in paired long bones across a developmental skeletal series. Methods: The humeri, radii, femora, and tibiae of 198 individuals from Ancestral Puebloan New Mexico (919-1670 CE) are analyzed to explore BA across development. Individuals are separated into five age categories, and by sex when possible, to explore patterns of BA. Results: Significant BA is found in the bones of the upper limb when the interaction between bone and age is examined. Results suggest that BA in the humerus and radius becomes more right-biased with age. These directional trends are not observed in the lower limbs. Division into age categories illuminates patterns of asymmetry associated with age-related activities and physiological maturity, indicating that BA is differentially affected by varying environmental stressors across development. Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesis that BA in long bones is influenced by environmental stressors that impact an individual's ability to produce symmetric morphological traits over the lifespan. Right-biased BA in the upper limb bones indicates that this variation from a symmetric ideal is strongly influenced by handedness resulting from habitual manual activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-430
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anatomy


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