Foraging complexity and the evolution of childhood

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Ilaria Pretelli , Erik Ringen, Sheina Lew-Levy


Our species’ long childhood is hypothesized to have evolved as a period for learning complex
foraging skills. Researchers studying the development of foraging proficiency have focused on
assessing this hypothesis, yet studies present inconsistent conclusions regarding the connection
between foraging skill development and niche complexity. In this paper, we leverage published
records of child and adolescent foragers from 28 societies to (1) quantify how skill-intensive
different resources are and (2) assess whether childrens proficiency increases more slowly for more
skill-intensive resources. We find that foraging returns increase slowly for more skill-intensive,
difficult-to-extract resources (tubers and game), consistent with peak productivity attained later
in adulthood. Foraging returns for easier-to-extract resources (fruit and fish/shellfish) increase
rapidly during childhood, with adult levels of productivity reached by adolescence. Our findings
support the view that long childhoods evolved as an extended period for learning to extract
complex resources characteristic of the human foraging niche



Life Sciences, Other Life Sciences



Published: 2022-02-04 12:12

Last Updated: 2022-05-24 02:55

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