Human Anatomy

How agriculture shaped our bones

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Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 43
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6243.43-d

The rise of agriculture fundamentally changed human mobility

IMAGE: ROY MILES FINE PAINTINGS/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

Human mobility declined after the Pleistocene, affecting human health and social organization—but what caused this decline? To find out, Ruff et al. examined skeletal remains from nearly 2000 individuals spanning a 33,000-year period from the Upper Paleolithic to the 20th century. They found that a decrease in the bending strength of leg bones accompanied the shift to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle that occurred in Europe during the Neolithic to Roman eras (approx. 7000 to 2000 years before the present). This implies a decline of mobility as agriculture came to dominate how people produced food. The remains did not reveal any further declines in the past 2000 years, even after agriculture became more mechanized.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 7147 (2015).

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