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Joe Jeffery
PhD student
Darwin College
Dept. of Archaeology & Anthropology
University of Cambridge




Project Supervisor Funding

Morphological adaptations to a fishing-foraging lifestyle

Marta Mirazon Lahr

In-Africa Project

Littoral habitats can be particularly biodiverse, resource rich, and resistant to environmental fluctuations, but in the palaeoanthropological literature aquatic resource exploitation is often cited as a marginal or back-up subsistence strategy and is largely ignored in favour of a focus on large terrestrial mammals. This is at odds with the ethnographic literature which suggests that littoral environments are able to support fisher-foraging societies that tend to be sedentary and population dense, while a reliance on terrestrial mammal hunter-gathering is often associated with high residential mobility and low population density.

My research addresses how the low mobility and high population density of fisher-foraging populations can be identified in human stature and development. Two separate models both imply that the high population density associated with aquatic resource exploitation results in small adult body size (Walker and Hamilton, 2008). The most widely versed emphasises the energy constraints imposed by malnutrition and disease that are exacerbated by high population density and result in slow growth rates and thus a smaller adult body size. However, high competition for resources and rates of disease transmission among population dense societies are also thought to incur high mortality rates. Life history theory predicts that in high mortality systems, fast development is preferential in order to reach reproductive maturity at a younger age and maximise reproductive fitness prior to death. This results in the attainment of a small adult body size at a young age (Migliano and Guillon, 2012, and references therein).

Consequently, via one of these mechanisms the sedentism and high population density associated with a fisher-foraging subsistence strategy can be expected to result in a small adult body sizes in comparison nomadic hunter-gatherers. Issues with waste disposal, a high reliance on the success of few local resources and risk of warfare are among other factors that could further drive high mortality rates among sedentary populations.

My research has two aims, (1) to identify whether these theories can be applied in understanding the effects of a fisher-foraging subsistence strategy on human development and stature, and (2) to see if it is possible to track the resultant speed of development in dentition, providing a potential method for identifying such life history adaptations in the hominin fossil record.




© 2012 Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of Cambridge