Persisting patterns of human height? Regional differences in living standards in the Early Middle Ages

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Abstract

öProximity to protein production' has recently been identified as an important determinant of regional variation of biological standards of living, as evidenced by average heights. The number of cows per person turned out to be a useful proxy where milk consumption had not been documented. Re-analyses of agricultural production and average male heights in early 19th-century central Europe show that indicators of agricultural suitability and potential for food production constructed from modern agro-ecological data are strongly correlated with historical agricultural specialisation. This paper uses a dataset of estimated heights and evidence on circumstances of the burial of about 2200 individuals who had lived in southwestern Germany during the 5th–8th centuries to assess the usefulness of modern proxy variables for explanations of regional differences in living standards in the distant past. Assuming some continuity in the relative suitability of smaller areas, the results suggest similar responses to environmental and climatic constraints, even though population density, agricultural technology, market integration, and consumption patterns of subsistence farming were very different from 19th-century conditions.

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