A new study is drawing on evidence from 60 prehistoric American cemeteries to assess the demographic impact of the shift from foraging to farming.

The results show that the invention of agriculture led to a significant worldwide increase in birth rate, according to Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel of the National Centre for Scientific Research, France, and Stephan Naji of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

While prior research has revealed an increase in birth rate – known as the Neolithic Demographic Transition – in Europe and North Africa, this is the first time that researchers have expanded the theory to a worldwide scale.

In a forthcoming study to be published in Current Anthropology, the scientists demonstrate that though agriculture did not appear in the Americas until 6,000-7,000 years after its arrival in Europe, the archaeological evidence parallels the changes that occurred with the advent of agriculture in Europe and North Africa. The authors explain, ‘Farming and the associated sedentism not only greatly increased the number of people who could be fed, but also boosted individual fertility of women to a possibly unique extent on such a scale in human history’.


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 15. Click here to subscribe

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