January 11, 2011

Early modern humans did not live longer than other human groups

UPDATE (Jan 13): John Hawks questions Erik Trinkaus about not citing previous work by Caspari and Lee.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018700108

Late Pleistocene adult mortality patterns and modern human establishment

Erik Trinkaus


The establishment of modern humans in the Late Pleistocene, subsequent to their emergence in eastern Africa, is likely to have involved substantial population increases, during their initial dispersal across southern Asia and their subsequent expansions throughout Africa and into more northern Eurasia. An assessment of younger (20–40 y) versus older (>40 y) adult mortality distributions for late archaic humans (principally Neandertals) and two samples of early modern humans (Middle Paleolithic and earlier Upper Paleolithic) provides little difference across the samples. All three Late Pleistocene samples have a dearth of older individuals compared with Holocene ethnographic/historical samples. They also lack older adults compared with Holocene paleodemographic profiles that have been critiqued for having too few older individuals for subsistence, social, and demographic viability. Although biased, probably through a combination of preservation, age assessment, and especially Pleistocene mobility requirements, these adult mortality distributions suggest low life expectancy and demographic instability across these Late Pleistocene human groups. They indicate only subtle and paleontologically invisible changes in human paleodemographics with the establishment of modern humans; they provide no support for a life history advantage among early modern humans.



sykes.1 said...

A number of years ago, I read a summary of human demographics in a Medieval English village. No child had a living grandparent. Parents typically died around age 50, and their living children then (and only then?) married (age 25) and inherited the farm.

I don't know how typical that is of the European medieval world, but it looks like the late paleolithic and early neolithic patterns persisted a long time.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

There is a chicken and the egg problem, but the association that has been made between major cultural advances for humanity and the presence of grandparents in the community seems to be supported by this study.

Fanty said...


I read that 1th century Germanic tribes married at the age of 12 and becoming adult at the age of 15, by a ceremony in wich the boy was given spear and shield.

But if Tacitus is any right, 1th century Germania was not like the medieval world. Anyone carried weapons. Kings held no power at all but needed suport of the people. And land/forrests/rivers werent anything that humans can own but they are for everyone.

(Through many claim, Tacitus was painting the picture of the "Noble Barbarian". Much like was done with the North American natives.

Armin(us) the son of Segimer, chief of the Cheruskii tribe went to Rome as child.

He joined the Roman Army at the age of 15 (notable the same age in wich a Germanic boy would be welcomed in the ranks of the warriors). Roman military academy at the age of 18. At the age of 21 his father Segimer died and he went back to Germania to become the chieftain of the Cheruskii. A postition in wich he finaly decided to stand up against Rome wich led to that famous ambush in wich 3 elite Legions had been destroid.