Department of Anthropology and Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403 KEY WORDS healthcare; risk; pathology; human life history; evolution; mortality; Shiwiar

Department of Anthropology and Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon,
Eugene, Oregon 97403
KEY WORDS healthcare; risk; pathology; human life history; evolution; mortality; Shiwiar
Implications of Health-Risk Buffering for the
Evolution of Human Life History
Lawrence S. Sugiyama*
Department of Anthropology and Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon,
Eugene, Oregon 97403
KEY WORDS healthcare; risk; pathology; human life history; evolution; mortality; Shiwiar
ABSTRACT Human life history is distinguished by
long lifespan, delayed reproduction, intergenerational
asymmetric benefit transfers from adults to juveniles and
between adults, and a large brain able to engage in unprecedented
levels of learning, reasoning, and insight. The
evolution of these traits depends on relatively low human
mortality. Understanding why humans have low mortality
is therefore critical for understanding the evolution of
key human traits. One explanation is that the evolution of
food provisioning during periods of health crisis reduced
mortality. This hypothesis turns on health risk having
posed a significant adaptive problem that could be effectively
buffered by healthcare provisioning. Unfortunately,
the frequency, duration, and fitness effects of temporary
disability are difficult to estimate based on osteological
evidence alone, and systematic ethno-biological research
on these issues among extant small-scale societies with
little access to Western medical care is lacking. Here I
present data on 678 injuries and illnesses suffered by 40
Shiwiar forager-horticulturalists, based on physical evidence
and informant reports. A subsample of 17 individuals
provided data on incidence and duration of disability
for 215 pathological incidents. Results indicate that injury
and illness occur frequently across the lifespan. Most living
individuals have suffered temporarily disabling health
crises likely to have been lethal without provisioning. The
fitness effects of surviving these episodes are high, suggesting
that the Shiwiar population structure and lifeway
are dependent on infrequent extended provisioning to
temporarily disabled individuals, and that provisioning of
aid during healthcare crises effectively lowers mortality in
this small-scale society. Am J Phys Anthropol 123:
371–389, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Life-history theory examines how natural selection
produced age-related allocation of resources between
somatic (growth and maintenance) and reproductive
(fertility, mating, and parenting) effort (e.g.,
Charnov, 1993; Charnov and Schaffer, 1973;
Hawkes et al., 1997; Hill and Hurtado, 1996; Hill
and Kaplan, 1999; Kaplan et al., 2000; MacArthur
and Wilson, 1967; Schaffer, 1974; Williams, 1966).
Four distinctive features of human life-history traits
are long lifespan, delayed reproduction, intergenerational
and asymmetric benefit transfers from adults
to juveniles and between adults, and a large brain
able to engage in unprecedented levels of learning,
reasoning, and insight (e.g., Bryne, 1997; Geary and
Flinn, 2001; Hawkes et al., 1998, 2000; Hewlett,
1992; Hill, 2002; Hill et al., 2001; Hill and Hurtado,
1996; Hill and Kaplan, 1999; Kaplan et al., 2000;
Tooby and DeVore, 1987). The evolution of each of
these features is dependent on humans experiencing
relatively low mortality rates. Understanding why
humans experience low mortality may therefore
“hold the key for understanding a variety of evolved
human features and . . . the evolutionary history of
our species” (Hill and Kaplan, 1999, p. 413).
This study examines health insults and their consequences
among Shiwiar forager-horticulturalists

. .

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