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Old November 14th, 2012, 09:14 PM   #1
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Neolithic age - shorter people?


I was going through guns germs and steel as well as various other books about the neolithic revolution and one thing observed on most skeletons is a decrease of size - i was wondering what the reasons were for that; didn't the rise of agriculture give more food which made people grow more?

I haven't seen great explanations for it - meat based diet means more protein which tend to make for taller and bigger people, i also saw that somehow people ate less with agriculture but at least had a more stable system of food.

Any explanations?
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Old November 19th, 2012, 02:32 AM   #2
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Weren't the neanderthals and other earlier human races considerably shorter and stockier? Perhaps the neolithic period was far enough back in history to have traces of these traits still visible.
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Old November 19th, 2012, 03:23 AM   #3

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Originally Posted by Nego View Post
Weren't the neanderthals and other earlier human races considerably shorter and stockier? Perhaps the neolithic period was far enough back in history to have traces of these traits still visible.
Homo erectus men were on average 180 centimeters, Homo heidelbergensis man (ancestor of neanderthal and modern humans) averaged 190 cm, but often giant populations were found which averaged more than 210cm. Presumably these earlier hominids didn't have agriculture.
Comparatively today Indonesia's male population is on average 158cm and the Netherlands male population 183cm. Interestingly the Netherlands population - today the tallest - was about 150 years ago the smallest people of Europe.

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The trend today is indeed that each generation is fitter and taller than the previous one, but this was not always the case.
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In Northern Europe, human height reached a maximum around 800 A.D., but then dropped to a minimum in the 17th century before climbing back up again
Why Are the Dutch So Tall? | Suite101


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Originally Posted by Adaptation View Post
I was going through guns germs and steel as well as various other books about the neolithic revolution and one thing observed on most skeletons is a decrease of size - i was wondering what the reasons were for that; didn't the rise of agriculture give more food which made people grow more?

I haven't seen great explanations for it - meat based diet means more protein which tend to make for taller and bigger people, i also saw that somehow people ate less with agriculture but at least had a more stable system of food.

Any explanations?
Agriculture provided a stable food supply, but it also made people cluster together in settlements and had them live in such a close relation with other animal species that new diseases more easily could emerge and spread. An unhealthy population won't grow tall, i guess.
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Old November 19th, 2012, 03:49 AM   #4

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Weren't the neanderthals and other earlier human races considerably shorter and stockier? Perhaps the neolithic period was far enough back in history to have traces of these traits still visible.
Only Homo Sapiens Sapiens survived to the Neolithic.
A suggestion:-
Hunter gatherers existed in fairly small groups, the lifestyle militates against large numbers of offspring and small isolated groups rarely encountered disease, unlike more concentrated groups in close proximity to domestic animals and their own waste wo could regularly be laid low by disease.
Hunter gatherers ate more meat and thus enjoyed higher-energy diets. In times of shortage, drought, flood or other problems, a group could move to where food was more plentiful. A sedentary group would only move in absolute extremis, but had the ability to store food, however the stored food would tend to be of lower quality than fresh food and of a lower nutritional value.
Exisiting hunter gatherers like San Bushmen can support a clan of 10-20 people with four hours work PER WEEK! A neolithic farmer probably toiled from dawn to dusk, not just planting and reaping, but keeping the bugs, animals, and other neolithic farmers away from his crops. Hunter=healthy exercise: Farmer=backbreaking toil.
Another factor is the status of Neolithic farmers. In most hunter-gatherer societies men do the hunting and women do the gathering. There are many examples in historical times of captured enemies being "converted" to women and, perhaps the first neolithic farmers were actually slaves, captured in battle and forced to do "women's work". Likewise in pastoral and nomadic herder societies, care of flocks and grazing cattle is deputised to pre-adolescent boys.
The growth of social heirarchy in neolithic society may have represented the dominance of hunters over the subordinate farmers, the hunters ( i.e. the elite) providing protection in return for an unearned share of the crops. The hunter-elite still hunted, in fact they often reserved the occupation for themselves, while the worker was allowed enough to survive on. On a diet of chickpeas, grain, the odd egg and a small bit of pig once a year at the winter solstice, neolithic peasant didn't live that well.
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