19th century. «Le cours de la vie de l’homme ou l’homme dans ses différents âges» (detail), anonymous author. Early 19th-century print showing stages of life and the Universal (Final) Judgemen CC license ‘L'Histoire par l'image’

The ages of life

Just as the human body, behaviours, and emotions have evolved, so has human development. Indeed, it has long been recognized that changing patterns of growth and development underlie biological evolution and speciation, as the books On Growth and Form (1917), by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), and Size and Cycle (1965), by John Tyler Bonner (1920-2019), established. «Growth» and «Development» refer to changes in the size, structure, and function of various body parts, including the brain, that occur during the lifetime of an organism.

This Room presents a view of the evolution of human development that is based on three branches of research. The first is anthropological studies of living humans, especially the ways in which biological and social factors interact to influence human development and health. The second is Auxology, that is, the scientific study of the physical growth and maturation of human beings and closely related species such as monkeys and apes. The third area is Life history evolution, which includes both theory and empirical studies of biological development in living and fossil species. Weaving together these three strands of research in Human Biology, Auxology, and Life history is a «biocultural perspective» of human development and evolution. The biocultural perspective is complementary to approaches to human development, from Neuroscience to Psychology, but it is also distinct in its focus on the evolution of human life history.

«Life history theory» is a field of biology concerned with the strategy an organism uses to allocate its energy toward growth, body maintenance, defence against infection, reproduction, raising offspring to independence, and avoiding death. For a mammal, it is the strategy of when to be born, when to be weaned, how many and what type of pre-reproductive stages of development to pass through, when to reproduce, and when to die. A central principle of life history theory is the concept of biological «trade-offs». These are life history strategies used when competition between two biological or behavioural traits requires a partial allocation of energy or materials to each trait. An example is the trade-off between investments of time or energy in one’s own physical body versus investments in the physical needs of one’s offspring. [Barry Bogin]

Barry Bogin is a Professor Emeritus of Biological Anthropology of the School of Sport, Exercise & Health Sciences, Loughborough University, UK, and William E Stirton Professor Emeritus of Anthropology of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Temple University in 1977. Bogin has expertise in human physical growth and development, nutritional ecology, evolutionary biology, Maya people, and human adaptation. The focus of his research is to explain how Social-Economic-Political-Emotional (SEPE) forces influence human physical development. He has authored more than 230 books, articles, book chapters, and popular essays. These include the books Patterns of Human Growth, 3nd edition (2021), Human Variability and PlasticityHuman Biology: An Evolutionary and Biocultural Approach, and The Growth of Humanity.


Bogin B, Varea C, Hermanussen M, Scheffler C. 2018. Human life course biology: A centennial perspective of scholarship on the human pattern of physical growth and its place in human biocultural evolution. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 165: 834–854

Bogin B, Varea C. 2017. Evolution of Human Life History. In J. Kass (Ed.), Evolution of Nervous Systems (2nd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 37-50). Oxford: Elsevier

Bogin B. 2021. Patterns of Human Growth, 3rd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Bonner, JT. 1965. Size and Cycle. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey

De Beer GR. 1954. Archaeopteryx and evolution. Adv. Sci. 11: 160-170

De Beer GR. 1975. Mosaic evolution. In: Hulse, F.S. (Ed.), Man and Nature. Random House, New York, pp. 36-54

Edwards CP, Knoche L, Kumru A. 2001. Play patterns and gender. In J. Worell Ed., Encyclopedia of women and gender: Sex similarities and differences and the impact of society on gender: 809-815. San Diego: Academic Press

Goldschmidt W. 2006. The Bridge to Humanity: How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hrdy, SB. 1999. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection. New York: Pantheon, Random House

Hrdy SB. 2009. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Jolly A. 1985. The Evolution of Primate Behavior, 2nd edn, New York, NY: Macmillian

Konner M. 2010. The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Kramer KL. 2014. Why what juveniles do matters in the evolution of cooperative breeding. Human Nature, 25: 49–65

Lancy F. 2014. The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

LeVine RA. 1988. Human parental care: Universal goals, cultural strategies, individual behavior. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 40: 3-12

Marlowe F. 2010. The Hadza Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Meehan CL, Quinlan R, Malcom CD. 2013. Cooperative breeding and maternal energy expenditure among Aka foragers. American Journal of Human Biology, 25 (1): 42–57

Singer C. 1959. A Short History of Scientific Ideas to 1900. London: Oxford University Press

Sommerville CJ. 1982. The Rise and Fall of Childhood. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications

Stratz CH. 1909). Wachstum und Proportionen desMenschen vor und nach der Geburt. Archiv für Anthropologie, 8: 287-297

Thompson DW. 1917. On Growth and Form. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge