(ORDO NEWS) — Today the number of people on the planet is almost 8 billion.
Over the past million years, something curious has happened in the history of the human population. First, at a certain point in time, our numbers dropped dramatically and our ancestors were in greater danger than chimpanzees and gorillas. The Sapiens then returned to extraordinary population levels, far superior to other great apes. Today, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that the total population of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans is only about 500,000 individuals, and many species are endangered. Meanwhile, the world’s population has grown to 7.7 billion people. The irony is that our amazing ability to reproduce now threatens the long-term existence of many species, including ourselves. But what sets us apart from our closest relatives,
How did man take over the world?
As anthropologist Karen Kramer writes in an article published in the journal Sapiens, her research provides a clue to what exactly happened in the distant past that led our species to such success. According to Kramer, saving women time and energy is key to increasing the population. “It is important to note that scientists must be careful when drawing direct analogies between modern humans or apes and our ancient ancestors. But modern humans and primates are the best ‘tools’ to understand how we took over the planet, ”the researcher writes in her article.
At some point in evolutionary development, people began to give preference to new ways of giving birth and raising children. Mothers started weaning their babies earlier. In modern societies, where babies rely on breast milk rather than bottle feeding, babies are breastfed for two to three years. In contrast, mothers of large monkeys feed their young for four to six years. This difference is due to the fact that breastfeeding is very high in calories. A mother needs about 600 additional calories a day to produce milk, so the sooner she stops breastfeeding, the sooner she will be biologically capable of another pregnancy.
In modern societies without contraception, women give birth on average every three years. Other great apes can wait six to eight years between births.
Our ancient ancestors also nourished, protected, and cared for babies who were weaned early, giving them a better chance of survival than non-human primate babies that take care of themselves after weaning. Today, a child living in a hunter-gatherer society is twice as likely to live to 15 years as a wild chimpanzee.
New parenting methods, compared to earlier hominids, also meant that Homo Sapiens mothers were in a unique situation, having multiple children of different ages to be cared for at the same time. Meanwhile, having a lot of kids is great for success of one kind or another.
Is collaboration the reason for our dominance?
As hunter-gatherers, our ancestors began to build shelters and outbreaks safe enough to handle and store food and tools. There was also a place in the shelter where the children could be left for a while. But our ancestors had a huge number of worries – finding and transporting water, chopping wood, sewing warm clothes in case of frost, maintaining social and informational connections necessary to access geographically distributed resources. But here’s the bad luck – there are simply not enough hours in a day for one person to be in time for all this.
And the Sapiens came up with a solution: hunter-gatherers developed a trait called intergenerational collaboration: parents help children and children help parents.
It is noteworthy that we do not share these traits with other great apes, who do not particularly like to share food. Ape mothers rarely share food with their young offspring after they are weaned, and little monkeys do not offer food to their mothers.
In humans, intergenerational cooperation means that raising a child really needs a whole settlement. Fathers and grandfathers certainly play an important role in supporting their families, but this is not enough. Kramer’s research suggests that a much more obvious source of help has been overlooked by researchers: children. In addition to mothers, children provide most of the childcare in many cultures. And the bulk of the babysitting work is done by children aged 7 to 10 years.
Children in agricultural communities are also hardworking workers. Thanks to this help, generations of women have been able to spend time on what only they can do: have more children. Thus, children increase the population, but their labor is also a built-in engine for maintaining fertility in the community and accelerating reproduction. Thanks to intergenerational collaboration and a variety of nutritional strategies, our ancestors were able to literally take over the planet. So, after 1800, the population of our planet has reached 1 billion people.
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