Lu Feng: causes of health disease pattern change after agricultural revolution

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 Lu Feng: causes of health disease pattern change after agricultural revolution


The introduction above (Lu Feng: agricultural revolution opens up a new disease model for human beings) shows that in the past few decades, biological Archaeology and other related disciplines, represented by the breakthrough progress of Paleopathology, have profoundly changed the academic understanding of the impact of Neolithic agricultural transformation on human health diseases, which is of great significance for reconstructing the history of human diseases in a high degree of contemporary scientific understanding. It is the human disease mode formed after the agricultural revolution that further developed under the environment of civilization and urban emergence and evolution. In the more recent historical period, European explorers and colonists invaded the new continent and brought about the exchange of diseases, which laid the historical premise for the globalization of human diseases in modern times. So what causes the emergence of human health disease patterns after the agricultural revolution? This paper also analyzes the relevant literature from different angles and provides a series of enlightening views. The main points can be summarized as the following five points.

First, closer daily contact with animals leads to an increase in zoonotic pathogens and infectious sources. In the era of collecting, fishing and hunting, killing and slaughtering wild animals can also cause pathogenic bacteria to invade human body through blood and body fluid contact. However, in the agricultural era, livestock and poultry farming requires more daily close relationship between human and animals, which makes zoonotic pathogens from animals jump to human hosts and lead to significant increase of infection opportunities. Epidemic history researchers call this kind of small probability event with increased opportunities brought about by the transition of production and lifestyle as a combination of factors, creating a perfect storm of zoonotic diseases from animals to human hosts.

Historians tell us that hundreds rather than more than a dozen people living together in one place have profound changes in their health. Population aggregation is initially more vulnerable to local pathogens: permanent settlement attracts rodents, insects and infectious diseases caused by these mediators, and a large number of intestinal parasites spread between hosts through contaminated water supply. Supporting the capacity of the larger community requires the ability to provide adequate food, water, sanitation and housing, but also increases the pressure on the spread of infectious diseases. For example, the development of irrigation system not only increases the food supply, but also provides favorable conditions for the reproduction and growth of some infectious diseases such as snails of Schistosoma and mosquitoes of malaria under specific climatic conditions. Since 6000 years ago, urban development has created a new disease environment that promotes people to people contact. Later, population urbanization and expansion to new ecological areas have become one of the most important driving forces for the evolution of infectious diseases [2]. Epidemiologists, for example, believe that an estimated 200000 people are needed to support an outbreak of measles.

The third is the adverse effects of reduced food types on nutritional conditions and health diseases. Anthropological observations of the modern fishing and hunting tribes show that their food combinations contain wild animals and plants rich in protein and other relatively balanced nutrients (diamond, 1987). Because of the similarity of the ways of obtaining food, the ancient hunter gatherers should also enjoy a wide range of food. After the transformation of Neolithic agriculture, the structure of planting and production determines the structure of food consumption, and farmers gradually turn to obtain food from one or several crops rich in carbohydrate. Wheat, rice and corn are the main food sources of most of the worlds population in the agricultural era. These three basic cereals have made a very important contribution in providing necessary energy for human life. However, the microelements such as vitamins and amino acids which are very important to human life are often low. Excessive dependence on a single or small amount of grain in daily food means long-term malnutrition. The imbalance of nutritional structure will not only directly lead to some diseases, but also reduce the bodys ability to resist infectious diseases.

The abundant evidence from the paleopathological studies of human bones and teeth shows that the decrease of nutrition level not only led to a significant decrease in the average height of the Neolithic tillers, but also brought about negative physical changes such as anemia and osteoporosis. For example, the remains of the ancient Dixon hills show that after the agricultural transformation, local people increasingly rely on a single staple food corn to provide calories. Biological archaeologists have also found that ancient pollen and spore samples provide evidence that agriculture reduces nutrient diversity. From this perspective, the characteristics of intensive agriculture contribute to the increase of seasonal stability of food supply, but at the same time, the total amount of edible plant resources decreases. In the Mediterranean region, agricultural intensification is accompanied by monoculture, which leads to soil overuse. Biological archaeologists believe that these crop data provide an important missing link in the causal chain between survival practices and susceptibility to contagion (Barret and armelagos, 2013).

The fourth is to intensify the labor intensity of farmers and increase the risk of intermittent famine. The agricultural revolution made human beings obtain the ability to control food supply for the first time, which may provide about 15% - 20% surplus in normal years (Fogel, 2004), which laid the foundation for long-term social division and efficiency improvement and the emergence of cities. However, there are two new problems. The labor intensity of cultivators increased significantly, which led to the aggravation of various physical injuries and the increase of chronic diseases. Herali, the author of a brief history of mankind, takes wheat planting as an example to explain why farmers have to work harder, including the need to clean up the stones in the field and move them out, causing backache and backache, requiring men and women to weed all day long in the hot sun, and expelling insects and preventing diseases and watering and fertilizing. Human spine, knee, neck and sole of feet have to pay a price.. He believes that the increase in disc herniation, arthritis, and hernia is associated with this (pp. 80-81)

In addition, the high dependence on a small number of food crops as staple food in a large space means that in case of natural disasters or major changes, serious food shortage or even famine may occur due to poor harvest. In the view of anthropologists, collectors rely on dozens of different foods to survive. When the number of one species decreases, they can harvest more from other species to make up for their basic food supply. Even if there is no grain left, they will die of starvation in a barren year. Thus, for the Bushmen, a contemporary hunter gatherer, it is inconceivable that they died of starvation like the tens of thousands of Irish farmers and their families in the 1840s potato famine. According to herali, the vast majority of agricultural society depends on a small number of agricultural crops, and many areas even have only one staple food, such as wheat, potato or rice. Therefore, if there is a shortage of water, a plague of locusts, or an outbreak of fungal infection, the death toll of poor farmers may even reach one million (brief history of human beings, P. 81) .

Fifth, after the agricultural revolution, social class differentiation will aggravate the burden of health and disease of ordinary labor groups. Although there was a natural division of labor in the sense of gender and age, there was no division of labor among the later rulers, elites and ordinary workers. The far-reaching influence of the agricultural revolution lies in that no matter where, there are rulers and elite classes, who not only rely on the hard-earned food produced by agriculture, but also collect and rob almost all of them, leaving only the amount that farmers can barely live on (page 100 of a brief history of mankind) McNeill created the concept of social megaparasitism to investigate the above-mentioned differentiation effects. The concepts of megaparasitism and micro parasitism constitute the basic perspective of analyzing human disease history in plague and man.

We should pay attention to several points to fully understand the change of disease pattern promoted by agricultural revolution. First of all, the results of relevant Paleopathology studies are not uniform, but there are a few reverse evidences. According to the papers submitted at the platsberg conference in the early 1980s, although infectious diseases occur in most of the agricultural transformation areas, there are also a few reports that the disease infection has decreased after the transformation from collection economy to agricultural production mode (cohenand amgelagos 1984). Relevant studies in China also show that the causes of cribriform orbital and porous bone hypertrophy found in ancient bones are complex, and the situation of people in different regions can not be generalized (Zhang Jun, 2009). Secondly, even though the Paleolithic human beings were relatively healthy in nutrition and health, we should not idealize their life and welfare state in violation of common sense. It is obviously ridiculous to imagine the ancient situation as a Paleolithic prescription (armelagos, 2010) for the contemporary population to obtain better health. After all, human beings were still in the ignorant age that had not yet completely separated from the animal kingdom.

Finally, when commenting on the significance and status of agricultural revolution as a whole, we should hold a rational position and avoid generalizing the whole. It is worth noting that, based on the research results of contemporary biological archaeology on the emergence of new forms of human diseases after agricultural transformation, foreign historians have obviously over questioned and denied the significance of agricultural revolution. For example, diamond, the author of guns, germs and steel, published an article in discover in 1987, criticizing the agricultural revolution as the biggest mistake in human history. A brief history of mankind, a new bestseller published in 2012, repeatedly stressed that the agricultural revolution was the biggest scam. These sharp views have positive significance for popularizing the new research results on the relationship between agricultural revolution and human health diseases, and there are reasonable factors for emphasizing the need to avoid simple linear thinking in historical cognition. However, it is obviously too extreme and biased to deny the agricultural revolution in an all-round way. Historical development has twists and turns, and progress and retrogression may be intertwined. However, it should be affirmed that human beings can eventually improve the efficiency of production activities and the ability to cope with diseases through scientific and technological progress in the long run. By summing up experience in repeated games and adjusting and improving the system, we can realize the spiral rise and development of human evolution in the sense of meaning.

[1]Populationdensitiesofhunter-gatherersarerarelyoveronepersonpertensquaremiles,whilefarmersaverage100timesthatuff08Diamonduff0c1987).

This article is the exclusive contribution of Netease Research Bureau and does not constitute investment decision.

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