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Wagamaga OP t1_j5adrdp wrote

The transition to agriculture from hunting and gathering in pre-colonial North America led to changes in age-independent mortality, or mortality caused by factors that are not associated with age, according to a new study by a Penn State-led research team. The team found that the intensification of crop use occurred in two phases, the first of which led to a decline in human age-independent mortality, while the second is associated with a rise in it. The study is the first to tie patterns of age-independent mortality to food production.

“This study tells the story of our shared human experience,” said George Milner, distinguished professor of anthropology at Penn State and lead author. “We have several examples around the world where we see a move toward crop domestication as an independent event – eastern North America, particularly the midcontinent, being one of them, but so too the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Also, there are demographic changes happening. This paper addresses the relationship between the move toward agriculture and demographic change.”

The researchers examined previously published data to identify general trends in archaeobotanical samples, or the remains of plants in the archaeological record, and skeletal samples from sites across eight states stretching from Illinois to northern Alabama. They wanted to study the relationship between the domestication of crops and an index that uses skeletal data to capture the frequency of juveniles aged five to 19 years old relative to all individuals aged five or more. Anthropologists normally use the index to measure fertility rates and population growth, but the new work shows it is more responsive to age-independent mortality.


Discoveryellow t1_j5amrny wrote

Is the study saying that the first time around agriculture caused a shorter lifespan?


Joeffry t1_j5b9wcq wrote

I don't think it has to do with lifespans exactly. I think the study suggests that the spread of native plant cultivation coincided, until 1000 years ago, with an increased likelihood that populations would die from age related causes as opposed to other causes (disease, famine, war, cataclysm, etc.).

But as populations introduced and became more dependent on maize specifically, the likelihood of dying from those non-age-related causes dramatically increased.