Please quote published research.

There is work on Paleolithic teeth that is often used as evidence to suggest that Paleolithic humans lived longer than early farmers (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/magazine/who-lives-longest.html). I worry about the sample sizes. Is there any additional bulletproof evidence to support this claim?

Or is this in fact false and is there strong evidence to suggest Neolithic farmers experienced a marginal improvement in lifespans due to the innovation of farming?


You can read the original paper here: Older age becomes common late in human evolution.

Note the author's first conclusion is that their results indicate:

a trend of increased survivorship of older adults through human evolution.

Now, the increase in longevity is by far the greatest in the early modern humans of the Upper Palaeolithic. At this point in human development, there are a more older adults than younger adults in the death distribution for the first time. Obviously, this is significant in terms of human development.

But the study didn't examine Neolithic samples.

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  • Thank you, I have seen the original paper. Would you recommend any additional papers which study this topic (perhaps from more perspectives than the dental record)? I am specifically interested in understanding the consensus on whether humans lived longer or shorter lives at the onset of agriculture. – Shashir Reddy Jul 4 '17 at 2:07
  • As noted above, there is a broad consensus that there's a trend of increased survivorship of older adults through human evolution. But this is based on comparisons of the ratios of older adults to younger adults in death distributions. Estimating an absolute age at death in adults is difficult. There's a good introductory course on Osteoarchaeology from Universiteit Leiden on Coursera which covers this topic. – sempaiscuba Jul 4 '17 at 10:49
  • The sentence "they lived longer" is not true or false, it is senseless. What numbers do you compare? Awaited life span for a 16-year person? Maximum life span? Medium one? Median? For example, medium life span 10000 years ago depended practically only on baby death rate, so teeth of adults are simply irrelevant. – Gangnus Jul 4 '17 at 14:42
  • @sempaiscuba I appreciate the response, and I don't want to be nitpicky, but my question is different from what you answered. I want to know whether human lived longer before or after the onset of agriculture (and not whether there was a jump in lifespans in the Upper Paleolithic). Stated in a different way: of course, there is a broad trend toward increased survivorship of older adults, but is it monotonic? Particularly, how does the lifespan curve behave at the onset of agriculture and why? I am seeking research papers that directly address this topic. – Shashir Reddy Jul 5 '17 at 14:36
  • There is one by Oded Galor and Omer Moav (researchgate.net/publication/…) that shows a non-monotonic curve around the onset of agriculture. They even posit an interesting theory around the interaction between human evolution and rise in extrinsic mortality (that we agricultural humans have evolved defenses that our ancestors didn't have). Unfortunately, they don't explain how they got their non-monotonic curve. I am curious to find research that address just that. – Shashir Reddy Jul 5 '17 at 14:39

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