Long-term trends in human body size track regional variation in subsistence transitions and growth acceleration linked to dairying

Jay T. Stock, Emma Pomeroy, Christopher B. Ruff, Marielle Brown, Matthew A. Gasperetti, Fa Jun Li, Lisa Maher, Caroline Malone, Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, Eóin Parkinson, Michael Rivera, Yun Ysi Siew, Sofija Stefanovic, Simon Stoddart, Gunita Zarina, Jonathan C.K. Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence for a reduction in stature between Mesolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers has been interpreted as reflective of declines in health, however, our current understanding of this trend fails to account for the complexity of cultural and dietary transitions or the possible causes of phenotypic change. The agricultural transition was extended in primary centers of domestication and abrupt in regions characterized by demic diffusion. In regions such as Northern Europe where foreign domesticates were difficult to establish, there is strong evidence for natural selection for lactase persistence in relation to dairying. We employ broad-scale analyses of diachronic variation in stature and body mass in the Levant, Europe, the Nile Valley, South Asia, and China, to test three hypotheses about the timing of subsistence shifts and human body size, that: 1) the adoption of agriculture led to a decrease in stature, 2) there were different trajectories in regions of in situ domestication or cultural diffusion of agriculture; and 3) increases in stature and body mass are observed in regions with evidence for selection for lactase persistence. Our results demonstrate that 1) decreases in stature preceded the origins of agriculture in some regions; 2) the Levant and China, regions of in situ domestication of species and an extended period of mixed foraging and agricultural subsistence, had stable stature and body mass over time; and 3) stature and body mass increases in Central and Northern Europe coincide with the timing of selective sweeps for lactase persistence, providing support for the “Lactase Growth Hypothesis.”

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2209482119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 24 2023


  • agriculture
  • bioarchaeology
  • domestication
  • health
  • human adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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