Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hunter Gatherer age at death


I've just finished Paleopathology at the origin of agriculture, my brain is still trying to formulate a blog post from it.
In the mean time I need to vent about questions that bug me. Tramping towards me smug in a totally unjustified "got 'im" frame of mind is the statement "ah yes but they died in their thirties/ forties/teens". I suppose it's obvious but it does bug mostly because 1; the question is usually delivered from a position of total ignorance 2; they think I don't know this "fact".
Well Let's deal with it, many paleo types don't refute this and go onto say, without penicillin most of us would be dead,or life expectancies were consistently low across (pre) history rising only recently. Both of which allow the other party to comfortably persist in the belief that "diseases of civilisation" are indeed diseases of extended old age. Thank god I can go back to eating sticky buns!

The summary of PatOoA gave me one interesting gem, that in most cases life expectancy fell at the advent of agriculture. Despite being more robust and more beaten up from a harder lifestyle Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunters lived longer enough to get more osteoarthritis. They also commented that age estimates are notoriously difficult to apply to living populations the oldest estimated population of hunters were from India many were estimated to have been in their sixth decade. The early mesolithic bodies from Aveline hole had interesting microwear patterns despite havng had a very meaty diet. The researchers state "fresh meat cannot cause dental wear". They then go on to say that the general assumption about HG diets being tough on teeth has implications for longevity estimates (which are largely done by tooth wear). here is the whole report. See also my previous entry about Inuit teeth.
The archaeological report from Wetwang Slack (iron age) in Yorkshire (UK) revised it's age estimates upwards by ten years after problems were found in the estimation techniques. In general farming populations living on a staple of bread would (I'd have thought) be subject to more consistent wear as their staple foods would be more consistent. It is more than possible HG populations spent months at a time living on low wear foods and as such modern hunter gatherers might make a better comparative model.
So much for prehistory, what can modern or at least near contemporary HG studies tell us. Well first they can tell us that nearly 50 percent of children don't make it to adulthood. A heart breaking statistic that has lead to the thought that the general good health of older HGs might be that the "weak" are thinned out early. That is until you see that accidents are a major cause of death and that most modern HG groups live with lions, snakes crocodiles etc.
Most anthropological studies show that older people make up a smaller part of the population but are still present and live on as productive members of society until late in life. Male hunters for example become very productive in some societies in their older decades. While (of course)they age HGs seem to age differently maintaining productivity right to the end. In the wonderful book "Language of the Land" Stevenson states that "Sapo was about fifty but age is hard to tell among the Hadza" .
Mortality is further driven by outside diseases (from where we get the Inuit age at death of mid thirties) and murders (more coming on this). Hunter Gatherers are modern people and live in OUR world of diminishing resources and population pressure. In the biggest look at the issue of HG longevity the anthropologist gives an estimate of 72 years.
So there you are the next time someone says to you "but they only lived to 30" you say yup mean age was about 40 but if you were one of the 50 percent (probably higher in the Paleo-Mesolithics due to lack of disease ridden farmers) who survived to adult hood you could live until your eighties.

But really the main whammy is that now people get Diabetes, Cancer and other DoC's in their twenties thirties and forties.

If they then waffle on about "diagnosis" tell them to google late stage cancer then RUN! Given that the essence of Evolutionary eating is about eating high quality "natural food" only a complete moron would argue with you anyway.

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