The Evolution of Human Life History

Advanced Seminar

November 2–8, 2002

“Human life histories differ from those of other primates in several initially puzzling ways,” explained the co-chairs. Evolutionary theorists have linked humans’ long period of childhood dependency and long “post-reproductive” lives to brain development and learning and to distinctively human aspects of social structure. However, in light of broad patterns in life history variation and evidence from paleoanthropology, those arguments are now being contested. The seminar goal was to identify and explain the peculiar features of human life histories such as the rate and timing of processes that directly influence survival and reproduction. When and why did these uniquely human patterns evolve?

This interdisciplinary group brought together specialists in the hunter-gatherer behavioral ecology and demography, human growth, development, and nutrition, paleodemography, human paleontology, primatology, and the genomics of aging. “We aimed to specify the life history features that distinguish humans from our closest living primate relatives, to review alternative explanations for these differences, and to consider multiple lines of evidence for testing these alternative evolutionary hypotheses,” stated the co-chairs.

Kristen Hawkes, Chair Department of Anthropology, University of Utah Slow Life Histories and the Role of Grandmothers in Human Evolution
Richard Paine, Chair Department of Anthropology, University of Utah Paleodemographic Data and Why the Holocene is Essential to the Understanding of the Evolution of Human Life History
Leslie Aiello Department of Anthropology, University College, London Cooperation and Human Evolution
Barry Bogin Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of Michigan, Dearborn Childhood Begets Children: Human Reproductive Success Then and Now
Caleb Finch Department of Neurological Sciences, University of Southern California Functional Genomics of Human Life History Plasticity and Evolution
Nicholas Blurton Jones Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers and Human Life History Evolution
Lyle Konigsberg Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee The Osteological Evidence for Human Longevity in the Recent Past
Daniel Sellen Department of Anthropology, Emory University Evolution of Human Weaning: Clues from Contemporary Studies of a Key Process
Carel Van Shaik Department of Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center Explaining Great Ape Life Histories: Adult Mortality, Brain Size, Learning Ecological Skills, or All of the Above?
Bernard Wood Department of Anthropology George Washington University The Evolution of Modern Human Life History: Comparative and Fossil Evidence

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