1875. «Portrait of María Bosh de la Presilla» (detail), Federico Madrazo y Kuntz. Photographer: Pablo Linés Viñuales © Museo Nacional del Romanticismo (Madrid, Spain)

Life cycle: Biology and culture

The life cycle is the natural frame of reference that defines and allows us to understand the biology of a species. The life cycle of each species is characterised by its potential duration; by the number, extension and characteristics of its stages of development and aging; for its plasticity, reflected in the phenotypic expression of ontogenetic processes; and, finally, by the uniqueness of the reproductive patterns. Reproduction is the biological mechanism that ensures the perpetuation of the species, in such a way that the behaviour patterns associated with it are intertwined in optimizing their survival. For decades now, the rapid population growth of our species (with very different levels of control in different societies) has been a major environmental problem.

Environmental regulation modulates the duration of life stages, the phenotypic expression of biological processes (growth, maturation and aging), the expression of reproductive processes and the actual length of the life cycle itself. In addition to biotic and abiotic determinants, the cultural determinants of the human ecosystem interact with environmental health and population well-being, with poverty and inequality being the main dangers, because they limit access to an optimal situation of well-being linked to access to water, nutrients, education, health, housing, essential amenities and technology.

This Exhibition space, Life cycle: Biological expression, cultural construction, contains three Rooms, «What makes us human?», «The stages of life» and «The human life cycle at the dawn of the Anthropocene». With contributions from national and international specialists, the different Galleries of these three Rooms review how our life cycle should be understood in a mammalian and primate evolutionary context (the so-called «Life History Theory»); which must be characterised as a unique life cycle, which arises as a consequence of the exclusive phenomenon of our Homo lineage, the biocultural interaction; and, finally, how the environmental changes —very rapid and unidirectional— of the last 200 years are having differential consequences for women and men, creating a new situation in our biological history.

The Exhibition space focuses on three essential changes for the future of the species: the increase in overweight and obesity, as the environmental determinants that regulate energy availability and access to very different foods are completely transformed; the change in population structures, with an increase in the number of elderly people and a reduction in child and youth groups; and, finally, the increase in the number of populations whose fertility is below the replacement level, as the economic, social and gender equality conditions are modified.

The evaluation of this recent transformation will be associated with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established by the United Nations in its so-called «2030 Agenda», especially in matters of gender and health. [Carlos Varea & Cristina Bernis]

The Exhibition space Life cycle: Biological expression, cultural construction has been designed and coordinated by Carlos Varea and Cristina Bernis, co-directors of the Virtual Museum of Human Ecology and members of the Department of Biology of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM, Spain), and has had the participation of Barry Bogin, José María Bermúdez de Castro, Inês Varela-Silva, José Miguel Martínez Carrión, Antonio Rosas & Esperanza Gutiérrez. This new Exhibition space was inaugurated on October 1, 2020  in the framework of the project C_013.19_INN of the Call for Projects from Teaching Innovation INNOVA 2019/20 of the Vice-Chancellor of Teaching, Educational Innovation and Quality of the UAM, and is supported by ASISA Foundation.

Mike Beedell, Anne Geddes, Ketut Ketutski, Teresa Palacios & Miriel Smith have been kindly collaborated with this new Exhibition space authorizing the free reproduction of works.