Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Waters-Rist, Andrea


This thesis utilises a biocultural lens to explore the pubertal timings of female adolescents from the city of Arnhem, The Netherlands (AD 1350-1829). Through the macroscopic examination of the skeletal remains of 40 female individuals (aged 9-25 years), data on stature, skeletal and dental pathology, and pubertal timings were collected. The results of this study are situated within previous bioarchaeological work on puberty, alongside clinical and historical standards. The average menarcheal age at Arnhem is 16.5 years, which aligns with primary sources and medieval British standards. The overall development period spans 11.3 years, from 10.3 to 21.6 years. Physiological changes that accompany each pubertal stage are related to social expectations as indicated in primary sources and are used to approximate the lived experience of female adolescents from Arnhem. This study showcases how methodology impacts interpretation and further supports the lack of a health disparity between the urban and rural environments of pre-Industrial Netherlands. It contributes to a growing research field about adolescents and puberty in the past, a topic which has previously received little attention, and seeks to remedy the traditional exclusion of women and children from archaeological reconstructions of life in the past.

Summary for Lay Audience

Adolescence is a period of both social and biological development that has been overlooked in historical sources and, until recently, bioarchaeology. Fortunately, the skeleton embodies identity and health in such a way that allows for a window into the lived experience of adolescents that material artefacts and primary sources do not. In 2013, Shapland and Lewis developed a method wherein the pubertal stage of a skeleton could be estimated. Puberty is separated into six different stages and each one is associated with the development and maturation of certain skeletal and dental elements. The age at which puberty milestones are reached will reflect overall health and may add contextualisation for the interpretation of other measures of stress as the manifestation of disease in the skeleton is not straightforward. This study examines 40 female adolescents (aged 9-25 years) from the urban site of Arnhem, The Netherlands (AD 1350-1829) and estimates their pubertal timings in addition to collecting data on height and pathology. The pubertal timing results are compared to clinical observations in modern populations, puberty data from other archaeological populations, Dutch historical sources, and historical standards from Medieval Britain. The estimated age of menarche (i.e. the first menstruation cycle) is 16.5 years, which aligns well with both Dutch primary sources and Medieval British standards. A comparison with previous research on the pubertal timing of the rural Dutch site Middenbeemster may support the idea that there was little to no difference in health risks between urban and rural Dutch communities before Industrialisation in the 1860s. This thesis also highlights methodological problems that still to be resolved and potential avenues of future research. This research contributes to the growing field of research on puberty and adolescents and works towards rectifying the traditional exclusion of women and children from archaeological reconstructions of the past.

Available for download on Sunday, December 01, 2024