Anthropology

From Fertile Soil to Fertile Society?

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Science  09 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5779, pp. 1442
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5779.1442c

The rise of agriculture at the beginning of the Holocene era is thought to have contributed to large increases in ancient populations. One measure of population growth that can be evaluated with reasonable certainty based on archaeological evidence is the number of juveniles in grave sites. Growing populations have proportionally more children, whereas the converse is true of populations in decline.

Bocquet-Appel and Naji studied the skeleton records in 62 ancient North American cemeteries, and observed that local societal transitions from foraging to agriculture were followed by a significant increase in the juvenile (aged 5 to 19) human remains. This trend parallels a similar but earlier transition in Europe. Thus, regardless of when agriculture developed globally, it appears to have occasioned a local increase in birth rate (and consequently population) during the ensuing several hundred years. The global data hint that many foraging populations may have stagnated in the years approaching the various transitions, or even declined slightly on account of taxed resources or emerging diseases — BH

Curr. Anthro. 47, 341 (2006).

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