The Most Powerful and Influential – How the Past 12,000 Years Shaped Who We Are Today

A new study analyzes how the past 12,000 years of behavior, adaptation, population and evolution have shaped who we are today.

The researchers examined the mechanisms of evolution and adaptation.

Humans have been changing for millions of years.

However, the last 12,000 years have been the most dynamic and influential in human life. According to Clark Spencer Larsen, professor of anthropology at Ohio State University, our modern world began with the beginning of agriculture.

Larsen said that:

Along with food crops, humans also sowed the seeds for many of the most pressing problems in modern society.

He said: “Although the changes brought about by agriculture brought us many benefits, they also caused conflicts and violence, increased infectious diseases, decreased physical fitness, poor food intake. , and more competition for resources.”

Larsen is the host and editor of a recently published Special Section in the journal Bulletin of the National Academy of Sciences. He is also the author of the introduction to the section, entitled “The last 12,000 years of behavior, adaptation, population, and evolution have shaped who we are today.”

The Special Section includes eight topics based largely on bioarchaeology – the study of human remains and what they can tell scientists about changes in diet, behavior and lifestyle over the past 10 thousand years or more. Larsen is a co-author on two of these eight.

One message that connects all the writings is that today’s major social issues have their roots in ancient times, he said.

“We did not get to where we are by accident. “The problems we have today with wars, inequality, disease and malnutrition are all the result of changes that happened when agriculture started,” said Larsen.

From hunting for food to agriculture, people, who lived a temporary life, created settlements and lived a life of self-sufficiency.

“That had profound effects on almost every aspect of our lives then, now and going forward,” he said.

The development of food allowed the world’s population to grow from 10 million during the Pleistocene Epoch to more than 8 billion people today.

But it came at a cost. A varied diet of forages was replaced by a very limited diet of plants and domesticated animals, which often had reduced nutritional value. Currently, most of the world’s population depends on three foods – rice, wheat and corn – especially in areas with limited access to animal sources of protein, Larsen said.

Another important change in the human diet was the addition of milk. In another article in the Special Feature, researchers analyzed dental plaques found in the fossils to show early evidence of dairy use around 5,000 years ago in northern Europe.

He said: “This is evidence that people have adapted genetically to be able to eat cheese and milk, and it has happened very recently in human evolution. It shows how people have adapted to living conditions. according to our new way of life.”

When people started to create agricultural communities, there were also changes in society. Larsen wrote another article that analyzed strontium and oxygen isotopes from the tooth enamel of early agricultural societies from more than 7,000 years ago to help determine where the populations came from. The results showed that Çatalhöyük, in modern Turkey, was the only one of the many cities studied where non-citizens lived.

He said: “This laid the foundation for social organization in the later societies of West Asia.”

These first nations also faced the problem of many people living in relatively small areas, causing conflicts.

In another article, researchers studying human remains in early agricultural settlements across western and central Europe found that about 10% died from blunt force trauma.

“Their analysis reveals that violence in Neolithic Europe was present and on the rise, resulting in warfare patterns that led to increased mortality,” Larsen writes in the introduction. .

The research reported in this issue of PNAS also reveals how these early human societies created the right conditions for another of the world’s most pressing problems today: infectious disease. Raising farm animals has led to common zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, Larsen said.

Although the problem of climate change today is unique in human history, past societies had to deal with short-term climate disasters, especially long droughts.

In a visionary article written by Larsen, the researchers noted that economic inequality, racism and other forms of discrimination were important factors in how societies fared under these emergency situations. heaven, and these facts will play a part in our present troubles.

Nations with more inequality are more likely to experience violence after climate disasters, Larsen said.

What may be most surprising about all the changes to the Special Feature script is how quickly it all happened, he said.

“When you look at the 6 million or so years of human evolution, this transition from foraging to agriculture and all the impact it has had on us – it all happened in the blink of an eye,” said Larsen.

In the measure of a person’s life, it may seem like a long time, but in fact it is not.

The research presented in the Special Section also shows the amazing ability of people to adapt to their circumstances.

“We are remarkably resilient creatures, as the last 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.”

Reference: “The past 12,000 years of behavior, adaptation, population and evolution have shaped who we are today” by Clark Spencer Larsen, 17 January 2023, Bulletin of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209613120

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