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The Later Pleistocene–Early Holocene transition in Europe is marked by dramatic changes in climatic and environmental conditions that resulted in shifts in resources, subsistence strategies, and lifestyle. Associated phenomena are diversification in foraging technology, changes in settlement patterns, population increase, and a broad range of biological adaptations recorded in bones and teeth.
Stature, as an indicator sensitive to environmental and socio-cultural variables, can provide clues into life conditions and microevolutionary trends affecting Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic populations. Viewed in this light, the very tall stature of Upper Paleolithic groups living in Europe before the Last Glacial Maximum mainly points to high nutritional standards and levels of gene flow.
Lower protein intake, together with inbreeding effects, may account for the marked decline of stature after the Last Glacial Maximum, a very dynamic phase from an evolutionary point of view. In particular, the negative trend affecting Western European populations after the Last Glacial Maximum suggests that changes in faunal composition, population packing, and intensified exploitation of resources had important effects on life conditions and on the quality of diet. Moreover, it is likely that the increased territorialism characterizing Late Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic groups resulted in a restriction of mating networks and in a consequent decreased gene flow. The retention until the climatic deterioration accompanying the Last Glacial Maximum of a linear, ‘‘tropically’’ adapted, body STATURE IN UPPER PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC 329 build, represents another possible factor underlying the negative trend.
An intriguing result is the strong differentiation between Western and Eastern Mesolithic populations, the latter being characterized by very tall stature. The reasons for this phenomenon remain obscure, and lack of information for LUP populations of that area renders any attempt of interpretation problematic. Regional analysis of the data, well supported by Western Mesolithic sites, shows absence of differences among samples widely distributed from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean basin, and suggests low diversification in nutritional, cultural and biodemographic patterns. The time of appearance of latitudinal gradients characterizing historical populations of Europe, and the reasons for the West–East Mesolithic dichotomy are among the main goals of future research.

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