University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Brigitte Holt

Brigitte Holt UMass headshot
Associate Professor, Anthropology
Family Research Scholar, 2016-2017

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Brigitte Holt studies skeletal manifestations of historical changes in socio-economic structures and systems. Dr. Holt is a physical anthropologist interested in human evolution in general and in the ways humans adapt, biologically and culturally, to their environment. One of her research foci has been on the relationship between physical activity and postcranial skeletal robusticity as a means of inferring behavior in past populations. She has been able to show, for instance, that in Upper Paleolithic populations from Europe, there is a marked decline in lower limb robusticity in the latter part of the UP, after the Last Glacial Maximum (around 18,000 years ago). This confirms archeological evidence of decreased mobility during that period. An ongoing project focuses on the evolution of postcranial robusticity in Europe from Upper Paleolithic to the present, in an effort to answer questions such as: Why do Europeans have such high rates of osteoporosis and fractures? What role does decrease physical activity play in this? When did the major changes occur? What role did factors such as agriculture, social inequality, division of labor, mechanization and industrialization play?

Another research interest centers around the origins of modern humans. Since 2002, Dr. Holt, along with colleagues from Duke University, University of Pisa (Italy) and Arizona State University, have been excavating the site of Riparo Bombrini, a rockshelter that preserves Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) and Upper Paleolithic (Aurignacian) layers.