How the past 12,000 years have shaped what humans are today

How the past 12,000 years have shaped what humans are today

How the past 12,000 years have shaped what humans are today

How the past 12,000 years have shaped what humans are today

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While humans have evolved over millions of years, the past 12,000 years have been one of the most dynamic and impactful years for the way we live today, according to an anthropologist who hosted a special journal article on the topic in the Procedures of the National Academy of Sciences.

Us modern world it all started with the advent of agriculture, said Clark Spencer Larsen, an Ohio State University professor of anthropology.

“The shift from foraging to farming changed everything,” Larsen said.

Together with food washedhumans also planted the seeds for many of modern society’s most vexing problems.

“While the changes brought about by agriculture have brought us much good, they have also led to increased conflict and violence, increased numbers of infectious diseases, decreased fysical activitya more restricted diet and more competition for resources,” he said.

Larsen is the organizer and editor of a special feature published in the January 17, 2023 issue of the magazine Procedures of the National Academy of Sciences. He also authored the introduction to the section entitled “The past 12,000 years of behavior, adaptation, population and evolution have shaped us into who we are today.”

The special section contains eight articles mainly based on bioarchaeology – the study of human remains and what they can tell scientists about changes in diet, behavior and lifestyle over the past 10 millennia or so. Larsen is a co-author of two of these eight papers.

A message that ties all the articles together is that today’s big social issues have ancient roots, he said.

“We didn’t get to where we are today by chance. The problems we have today with warfare, inequality, disease and poor nutrition are all a result of the changes that happened when agriculture started,” Larsen said.

The shift from foraging to agriculture led humans, who had led largely transient lives, to create settlements and lead a much more sedentary existence.

“That has profoundly affected virtually every aspect of our lives then, now and in the future,” he said.

By growing food, the World population to grow from about 10 million in the later Pleistocene to more than 8 billion people today.

But it had a price. The varied diet of foragers was replaced by a much more limited diet of domesticated plants and animals, often of reduced nutritional quality. Now, much of the world’s population depends on three foods: rice, wheat and corn, especially in areas that have limited access to animal sources of protein, Larsen said.

Another major change in people’s diet was the addition of dairy products. In an article in the Special Feature, researchers examined tartar found in remains to show that the earliest evidence of milk consumption dates back to about 5,000 years ago in northern Europe.

“This is evidence that humans have genetically adapted to be able to consume cheese and milk, and it happened very recently in human evolutionhe said. “It shows how humans are biologically adapting to our new lifestyle.”

As humans began to create agricultural communities, social changes also took place. Larsen co-authored a paper analyzing strontium and oxygen isotopes tooth enamel of early farming communities from over 7,000 years ago to help determine where the inhabitants came from. Results showed that Catalhöyükin modern Turkey, was the only one of several studied communities apparently to be home to non-local people.

“This laid the foundations for kinship and community organization in later societies of Western Asia,” he said.

These early communities also faced the problem of many people living in relatively cramped areas, which led to conflict.

In an article, researchers studying human remains in early farming communities in Western and Central Europe found that about 10% died from traumatic injuries.

“Their analysis shows that violence in Neolithic Europe was endemic and scaled upwards, resulting in patterns of warfare that led to increasing numbers of deaths,” Larsen writes in the introduction.

Research reported in this PNAS issue also shows how these first human communities created the ideal conditions for another problem that is top-of-mind in the world today: infectious diseases. Farm animal breeding led to the common zoonotic diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, Larsen said.

While today’s climate change crisis is unique in human history, past societies have experienced more short-term climate catastrophes, particularly prolonged droughts.

In a perspective article co-written by Larsen, the researchers noted that economic inequalityracism and other forms of discrimination have been key factors in how societies have fared under these climate emergencies, and these factors will play a role in our current crisis.

Those communities with more inequality were most likely to experience violence in the aftermath of climate disasters, Larsen said.

Perhaps what’s most surprising about all the changes documented in the special feature is how quickly they all happened, he said.

“When you look at about six million years of human evolution, this transition from foraging to agriculture and all the impact it’s had on us — it all happened in the blink of an eye,” Larsen said.

“On the scale of a lifetime, it may seem like a long time, but it really isn’t.”

The research presented in the Special Feature also demonstrates the amazing ability of humans to adapt to their environment.

“We are remarkably resilient creatures, as the past 12,000 years have shown,” he said.

“That gives me hope for the future. We will continue to adapt, find ways to face challenges and find ways to succeed. That’s what we do as human beings.”

More information:
Larsen, Clark Spencer, The past 12,000 years of behaviour, adaptation, population and evolution have shaped us into who we are today, Procedures of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209613120.

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