Coming of age in the Netherlands: An osteological assessment of puberty in a rural Dutch post-medieval community.
OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study is to apply pubertal stage estimation methods to a sample from a rural community: the post-medieval Dutch skeletal collection from Middenbeemster. Puberty is a key developmental period involving transition to physical adulthood with broad societal relevance through its impact on fertility, morbidity, and mortality. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Individuals (n = 55), including 27 of known sex and age-at-death, between the ages of 8 and 25 years were assessed for six skeletal markers indicative of pubertal growth spurt. Recent novel osteoarchaeological methods from Shapland and Lewis are used to reconstruct the timing and duration of pubertal stages. RESULTS: Pubertal acceleration occurred earlier in females (10.38 years, n = 8) than males (13.30 years, n = 6), whereas maturation occurred later in males (21.36 years, n = 11) than females (19.30 years, n = 5). Onset appears earlier and completion later compared to other archaeological skeletal samples with osteoarchaeological evidence of puberty. Age shortly after menarche was reconstructed at 20.45 years, substantially later than historic records and bioarchaeological research reports suggest. CONCLUSION: This early onset and late completion caused a "stretch" of the overall duration of puberty compared to other collections, especially of the last three stages. This prolonged development is reflected in historically known social expectations for the Netherlands, for example, that marriage and children should not occur before about 22-23 years of age. Increasing the range of past peoples with puberty stage reconstruction will permit more insightful interpretations of the biological and cultural patterns of this important life stage.