The Student

Teeth analysis reveals women travel more than men

During freshers’ week you’ll have met people from far and wide who’ve come to study at Edinburgh. Undoubtedly, some of these people will have been the gap year students who have told you time and time again how incredible their trip was. Even if you have not managed to meet one of these people, five swipes on a mobile dating app and you’ll have seen the pictures and bios of people who have traveled.

An interest in travel seems innate in most people and cultures – in any one city travelers from all parts of the globe can be found. The reasons for this aren’t entirely known, but they’re surely related to our evolutionary past.

The human species is around 150-200,000 years old, and up until around 14,000 years ago we’ve existed as hunter-gather tribes. Prior to that time, bands of humans populated and migrated across the land in search of resources.

In other words, for over 100,000 years humans wandered around the world. Only around 14,000 years ago – when we stopped hunting-gathering and started farming – did people start settling in one place. As a result, our species has seemingly had it hardwired into us by evolution to travel.

Based on this, surely men and women should like travelling equally? Curiously, that isn’t the case – and hasn’t been for a while. Corina Knipper, of the Curt Engelhorn Centre for Archaeology in Germany, looked into this further. Her team examined the teeth of 84 skeletons found in the Lech River Valley in Germany.

More specifically, her team were looking at isotopes of strontium and oxygen. Since different regions have more isotopes than others, Knipper’s team could trace where the skeletons had been when their adult teeth formed, for example where they grew up, based on the number of isotopes.

The team found that 60 per cent of the female skeletons who lived there originated from outside the valley, compared to only 11 per cent of the male skeletons. This seems to suggest that, even 5,000 years ago, women moved into the region more than men –suggesting that women traveled in general more than men.

Nowadays, travel is different. Whereas before humans needed to constantly move to find resources, now it seems people travel in search of new experiences and sights. Interestingly, women are more likely to travel alone than men, and are more likely to travel solo later in life.

Regardless of a person’s reason to travel, our evolutionary imperative for travel still lives on strongly to this day.

Image: Ales Krivec