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 and 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.


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