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Reconstructing Life History of Hominids and Humans

Croatian Anthropological Society; [email protected]
Publication Date
  • Biocultural Adaptations
  • Evolution
  • Growth And Development
  • Senescence
  • Archaeology


Aspects of life history, such as processes and timing of development, age at maturation, and life span are consistently associated with one another across the animal kingdom. Species that develop rapidly tend to mature and reproduce early, have many offspring, and exhibit shorter life spans (r-selection) than those that develop slowly, have extended periods of premature growth, mature later in life, reproduce later and less frequently, have few offspring and/or single births, and exhibit extended life spans (K-selection). In general, primates are among the most K-selected of species. A suite of highly derived life history traits characterizes humans. Among these are physically immature neonates, slowed somatic development both in utero and post-natally, late attainment of reproductive maturity and first birth, and extended post-mature survival. Exactly when, why, and through what types of evolutionary interactions this suite arose is currently the subject of much conjecture and debate. Humankind’s biocultural adaptations have helped to structure human life history evolution in unique ways not seen in other animal species. Among all species, life history traits may respond rapidly to alterations in selective pressures through hormonal processes. Selective pressures on life history likely varied widely among hominids and humans over their evolutionary history. This suggests that current patterns of human growth, development, maturation, reproduction, and post-mature survival may be of recent genesis, rather then long-standing adaptations. Thus, life history patterns observed among contemporary human and chimpanzee populations may provide little insight to those that existed earlier in hominid/ human evolution.

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