Anthropology

Ancient Silver Generations?

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Science  16 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5682, pp. 313
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5682.313b

An important factor in societal function and cultural development is the proportion of adults that live long lives. Human societies in which few adults survive for long develop differently from ones with more older individuals, because of the different needs for care of children and for care of the elderly, and because of the different levels of shared knowledge. Caspari and Lee investigate this question over time during human evolution, by examining the available fossil record. They assessed the change in the average longevity of adults in four separate groups of hominids, from Australopithecines to more recent societies that replaced Neanderthals in the Late Pleistocene, using dental wear of adult teeth. Adult longevity increased with human evolution, from a ratio of old to young adults of about 0.12 to 0.4 for Neanderthal fossils, with a particularly dramatic increase in paleolithic societies to more than two older adults for each younger adult. Thus, a significant increase in longevity seems to have arisen late in human evolution. — BH

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.0402857101 (2004).

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