Stature and robusticity during the agricultural transition: evidence from the bioarchaeological record

Econ Hum Biol. 2011 Jul;9(3):284-301. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2011.03.004. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


The population explosion that followed the Neolithic revolution was initially explained by improved health experiences for agriculturalists. However, empirical studies of societies shifting subsistence from foraging to primary food production have found evidence for deteriorating health from an increase in infectious and dental disease and a rise in nutritional deficiencies. In Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture (Cohen and Armelagos, 1984), this trend towards declining health was observed for 19 of 21 societies undergoing the agricultural transformation. The counterintuitive increase in nutritional diseases resulted from seasonal hunger, reliance on single crops deficient in essential nutrients, crop blights, social inequalities, and trade. In this study, we examined the evidence of stature reduction in studies since 1984 to evaluate if the trend towards decreased health after agricultural transitions remains. The trend towards a decrease in adult height and a general reduction of overall health during times of subsistence change remains valid, with the majority of studies finding stature to decline as the reliance on agriculture increased. The impact of agriculture, accompanied by increasing population density and a rise in infectious disease, was observed to decrease stature in populations from across the entire globe and regardless of the temporal period during which agriculture was adopted, including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, and North America.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Archaeology*
  • Body Height / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food Supply
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Paleopathology
  • Population Growth
  • Social Change*