Research Press Release

Anthropology: Height in Milan may not have changed since the Roman Era

Scientific Reports

February 24, 2023

The average height of people living in Milan, Italy, has remained unchanged over the past 2,000 years, suggests an analysis of the remains of more than 500 individuals buried in the city from the Roman Era to the 20th century. The study, published in Scientific Reports, found that although height varied in individuals from across different eras, the average height for both males and females did not significantly differ across time.

Human stature, or natural height, is determined by genetics and environmental influences and is often used as an indicator of the health and social dynamics of human populations. Mirko Mattia and colleagues analysed the remains of 549 males and females buried in Milan over almost 2,000 years of history. The time periods included the Roman Era (first–fifth centuries AD), Early Middle Ages (sixth–tenth centuries AD), Late Middle Ages (eleventh–fifteenth centuries AD), Modern Era (sixteenth–eighteenth centuries AD) and Contemporary Era (nineteenth–twentieth centuries AD). The remains were known to be of less wealthy individuals based on goods found in graves and historical data of the burial sites.

Overall, the authors found that the stature for males ranged from between 152cm to 195.4cm, with a mean of 168.5cm. The stature of females varied from between 143.5cm to 177.6cm, with a mean stature of 157.8cm. The mean stature for males and females remained stable over time and did not significantly differ across the eras.

The authors propose that the stable trend of stature over time may be related to the comparatively better living conditions in the city of Milan than other areas. The authors highlight that records suggest the region was rich in natural and food resources, while the city walls provided a defence against potential threats. They conclude that their study is a rare example of heights in a population remaining  unchanged over millennia.

The skeletal remains come from the CAL (Anthropological Collection of the LABANOF) and are displayed in the new MUSA (University Museum of Anthropological, Medical and Forensic Sciences for Human Rights).


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