Osteoarthritis, Labour Division, and Occupational Specialization of the Late Shang China - Insights from Yinxu (ca. 1250 - 1046 B.C.)

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Author: Zhang, Hua
Author: Tang, Jigen
Author: He, Yuling
Author: Yue, Hongbin
Author: Yue, Zhanwei
This research investigates the prevalence of human osteoarthritis at Yinxu, the last capital of the Late Shang dynasty (ca. 1250–1046 B.C.), to gain insights about lifeways of early urban populations in ancient China. A total of 167 skeletal remains from two sites (Xiaomintun and Xin’anzhuang) were analyzed to examine osteoarthritis at eight appendicular joints and through three spinal osseous indicators. High osteoarthritis frequencies were found in the remains with males showing significantly higher osteoarthritis on the upper body (compared to that of the females). This distinctive pattern becomes more obvious for males from Xiaomintun. Furthermore, Xiaomintun people showed significantly higher osteoarthritis in both sexes than those from Xin’anzhuang. Higher upper body osteoarthritis is speculated to be caused by repetitive lifting and carrying heavy-weight objects, disproportionately adding more stress and thus more osseous changes to the upper than the lower body. Such lifting-carrying could be derived from intensified physical activities in general and specialized occupations in particular. Higher osteoarthritis in males may reveal a gendered division of labour, with higher osteoarthritis in Xiaomintun strongly indicating an occupational difference between the two sites. The latter speculation can be supported by the recovery of substantially more bronze-casting artifacts in Xiaomintun. It is also intriguing that relatively higher osteoarthritis was noticed in Xiaomintun females, which seems to suggest that those women might have also participated in bronze-casting activities as a “family business.” Such a family-involved occupation, if it existed, may have contributed to establishment of occupation-oriented neighborhoods as proposed by many Shang archaeologists.
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Zhang H, Merrett DC, Jing Z, Tang J, He Y, Yue H, et al. (2017) Osteoarthritis, labour division, and occupational specialization of the Late Shang China - insights from Yinxu (ca. 1250 - 1046 B.C.). PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176329. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176329.
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Osteoarthritis, labour division, and occupational specialization of the Late Shang China - insights from Yinxu (ca. 1250 - 1046 B.C.)
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