Nav: Home

New research shows same growth rate for farming, non-farming prehistoric people

December 21, 2015

Prehistoric human populations of hunter-gatherers in a region of North America grew at the same rate as farming societies in Europe, according to a new radiocarbon analysis involving researchers from the University of Wyoming and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The findings challenge the commonly held view that the advent of agriculture 10,000-12,000 years ago accelerated human population growth. The research is reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a major scientific journal.

"Our analysis shows that transitioning farming societies experienced the same rate of growth as contemporaneous foraging societies," says Robert Kelly, University of Wyoming professor of anthropology and co-author of the PNAS paper. "The same rate of growth measured for populations dwelling in a range of environments, and practicing a variety of subsistence strategies, suggests that the global climate and/or other biological factors -- not adaptability to local environment or subsistence practices -- regulated long-term growth of the human population for most of the past 12,000 years."

The lead author of the paper is Jabran Zahid of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. Erick Robinson, post-doctoral researcher in the University of Wyoming's Department of Anthropology, also participated in the research.

While the world's human population currently grows at an average rate of 1 percent per year, earlier research has shown that long-term growth of the prehistoric human population beginning at the end of the Ice Age was just 0.04 percent annually. That held true until about 200 years ago, when a number of factors led to higher growth rates.

For their research, the UW and Harvard-Smithsonian scientists analyzed radiocarbon dates from Wyoming and Colorado that were recovered predominantly from charcoal hearths, which provide a direct record of prehistoric human activity.

For humans in the region that is now Wyoming and Colorado between 6,000 and 13,000 years ago -- people who foraged on animals and plants to survive -- the analysis showed a long-term annual growth rate of 0.041 percent, consistent with growth that took place throughout North America. During that same period, European societies were farming or transitioning to agriculture, yet the growth rate there was essentially the same.

"The introduction of agriculture cannot be directly linked to an increase in the long-term annual rate of population growth," the researchers wrote.

In general, similar rates of growth -- around 0.04 percent -- were measured for prehistoric human populations across a broad range of geographies and climates, the scientists say. "This similarity in growth rates suggests that prehistoric humans effectively adapted to their surroundings such that region-specific environmental pressure was not the primary mechanism regulating long-term population growth."

Instead, the factors that controlled long-term population growth during that period likely were global in nature, such as climate change or biological factors affecting all humans, such as disease.

While concluding that population growth held steady overall at about 0.04 percent annually for thousands of years, the paper acknowledges that there were short-term fluctuations in human growth rates in certain regions lasting from a few hundred to 1,000 years. The authors suggest further statistical analysis of radiocarbon dates of human remains to study the mechanisms regulating population growth.
-end-


University of Wyoming

Related Anthropology Articles:

AAA extends partnership with Wiley
The American Anthropological Association (AAA) today renewed its publishing agreement with Wiley, continuing a decade long partnership.
Boosting communication is key in managing menopause
A University of Delaware student and faculty member have reviewed previous studies about how women manage menopause symptoms and found that they frequently use alternative treatments.
Walker receives Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award
Alan Walker, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Biology was awarded the Charles R.
The taming of the rat
If you worry about having a pet rat in case it bites you, then you can relax.
OU center examines how genomic information impacts medical care of Native Americans
A University of Oklahoma Center on American Indian and Alaska Native Genomic Research will examine the impact of genomic information on American Indian and Alaska Native communities and health care systems.
Nature vs. nurture? Both are important, anthropologist argues
Evolutionary science stresses the contributions biology makes to our behavior.
Production of butter from shea trees in West Africa pushed back 1,000 years
University of Oregon anthropologists have pushed back the history of harvesting shea trees in West Africa by more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.
Research reveals connections between social science and high fashion
The presentation will be featured this month at the world's largest gathering of anthropologists.
Emotionally supportive relationships linked to lower testosterone
Science and folklore alike have long suggested that high levels of testosterone can facilitate the sorts of attitudes and behavior that make for, well, a less than ideal male parent.
The challenges for anthropologists when they're the expert in the courtroom
A national presentation and discussion will examine the intellectual, practical and ethical challenges for anthropologists when they're hired to serve as expert witnesses.

Related Anthropology Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...