Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cultural change and the human skeleton

The May 4 issue of Science reports on a study of "more than 2000 European skeletons" from over the last 30,000 years tracing how cultural changes like switching from hunting and gathering to farming and herding, from "life as nomads to settling in urban centers; from eating meat, nuts, and tubers to consuming grains, sugars, and dairy products" has altered the human physique. Over this time, the study documents a significant drop in strength in leg bones, the loss of asymmetrically larger right arms as compared to left arms, and fluctuations in weight and height. (The loss of resistance to fracture, according to the article, declined by 25% from 27,000 years ago to 1900 C.E.) 30,000 years ago, apparently, the average European male was as tall as the average European male today. With the onset of agriculture, height and weight both dropped. (Agriculture, apparently, provided poorer nutrition than hunting and gathering did.) I'm not clear, from the article, who exactly conducted the study. The article quotes a few paleo-anthropologists and bio-archeologists who attended the meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists last month in Portland, but offers not a single reference to the title of the study, its place of publication, or its authors. (Presumably some of the people quoted are authors of the study...)

Interesting to imagine what differences might be seen in the human skeleton, say, 1000 years from now...

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