Fluctuating asymmetry and stress in a medieval Nubian population

Valerie B. DeLeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Fluctuating asymmetry is commonly used as a bioindicator of developmental stress. This study addresses asymmetry under nutritional/systemic stress in the human craniofacial skeleton and its utility as an indicator of developmental instability. Crania from the diachronic Christian cemeteries at Kulubnarti (Sudanese Nubia) were chosen as a model for nutrition/systemic stress. Previous studies indicate that individuals from the Early Christian cemetery were subjected to greater developmental stress when compared with individuals from the Late Christian cemetery. Therefore, crania from the Early Christian cemetery should display a greater magnitude of fluctuating asymmetry than crania from the Late Christian cemetery. Thirty adult crania of comparable age and sex were selected from each population. Landmark coordinates were digitized in two separate trials and averaged to minimize error. Euclidean distance matrix analysis (EDMA) was used to measure and compare the magnitude of fluctuating asymmetry in each sample. Results indicate that crania from the Early Christian cemetery display greater amounts of fluctuating asymmetry than those from the Late Christian cemetery, as predicted. The degree of fluctuating asymmetry for each linear distance is highly correlated between the cemeteries, suggesting that all humans may share common patterns of fluctuating asymmetry in the skull. In contrast, there is little correlation between magnitude of fluctuating asymmetry and length of linear distance, between-subject variability, or measurement error. These results support the hypothesis that poor nutrition/systemic stress increases developmental instability in the human skull and that increased fluctuating asymmetry constitutes morphological evidence of this stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-534
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • Craniofacial
  • Development
  • Health
  • Kulubnarti

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology


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