Lecture 4 - When Humans Were Scarce

author: Robert Wyman, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: May 14, 2010,   recorded: January 2009,   views: 3382
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)

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Hunter-gatherer populations were much less dense than later agriculturalists. The variety of their food supply protected them from crop failures and their sparseness reduced the spread of infectious diseases. Hunter-gatherers were healthier and worked less than early agriculturalists. Why didn't their numbers increase up to the same level of Malthusian misery? Their numbers may have been limited by violence between groups. Agriculture is more work intense and offers a less varied diet. Populations seem to grow rapidly and then die out suddenly. Populations are subject to climatic- or disease-caused crop failure. But farming allows individuals to produce a surplus of food that can then be stolen by warrior tribes or military castes. The surplus allows for population growth, cities and stratified societies. The death rate, until perhaps the 1700s in Europe, is enormously high: only approximately a third of women survive to the end of their reproductive period. At this death rate, surviving women who are able to reproduce must have more than six children on average or the society goes extinct. All the great religions and cultures develop in this long period and all stress the requirement for high reproductive rates: "Be fruitful and multiply."

Reading assignment:

Hurtado, A. Magdalena and Kim Hill. Ache Life History: The Ecology and Demography of a Foraging People, pp. 1-6

Livi-Bacci, Massimo. A Concise History of World Population: An Introduction to Population Processes, pp. 31-36 and 42-48

Caldwell, Pat, John Caldwell and I.O. Orubuloye. "The Destabilization of the Traditional Yoruba Sexual System." Population and Development Review, 17, pp. 231-238

Geertz, Clifford. "Book Review: A Society without Fathers or Husbands. The Na of China." The New York Review of Books, Vol. 48, no. 16, 18 October 2001

Smith, Robert J. and Ella Wiswell. The Women of Suya Mura, chapters 4 and 5

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