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


Author Lu Feng (Professor, National Development Institute, Peking University)

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.

In terms of many infectious diseases which are well known and suffered by human beings in civilized society, zoonoses are the starting point of evolution. Smallpox, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases can be traced back to the source of domesticated ruminants. For example, smallpox may have originated from bovine vaccinia virus, and one of its variants has been inoculated to humans early to prevent more toxic and fatal smallpox infections. The measles virus may be originated from rinderpest virus, while the source of influenza is mostly related to avian influenza from the gastrointestinal digestive system of waterfowls such as ducks and geese. Agriculture requires that humans and animals get closer together, creating opportunities for repetitive transmission of pathogens (barattand armorlagos, 2013). According to McNeill, author of plague and man, in most cases, infectious diseases peculiar to civilized society are originally transmitted from animals to humans.. According to the data he cites, there are hundreds of human and animal diseases associated with seven kinds of raised (poultry, horses, pigs, sheep, cattle, dogs) or roommates (mice).

Second, the change of population living style and the increase of concentration degree provide convenient conditions for the spread of infectious diseases. In the era of hunting and gathering, human beings usually engage in economic activities in dozens of units, and the average area of food collected is generally 20-30 square kilometers [1]. Due to the relatively scattered population and normal migration, infectious diseases are difficult to spread. Domesticated agriculture makes it possible for population growth and population density to increase by 10-20 times. In connection with the transformation of Neolithic agriculture, people generally adopt permanent settlement mode, and the food carrying capacity of population in specific space area has increased and the number of concentrated residents has increased greatly. Especially after entering the civilized era, the phenomenon of urban agglomeration appeared, and the urban population scale was raised to tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands in the classical times and the middle ages. The above historical evolution makes the spread of infectious diseases possible.

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) .

From the perspective of the concept of double parasitism, the analysis of the causes of the new disease mode initiated by the agricultural revolution reveals the historical changes in the micro parasitism relationship between human beings and nature after entering the agricultural society; the fact of social differentiation and the development of megaparasitism indicates that the new pressure faced by human health is bound to become more and more negative for the ordinary working class Bear. Paleopathology also provides empirical evidence for this. For example, 1500 BC skeletons found in the tombs of the Mycenaean civilization in Greece reveal that members of the royal family enjoy better food than civilians, their skeletons are 2-3 inches higher and their teeth are in better condition (on average, only one sixth of the common people have decayed or missing teeth). Among the Chilean mummies in 1000 AD, the aristocrats were clear at a glance. Not only did they carry ornaments and gold hairpins, but also because of diseases, their bone damage was four times lower than that of ordinary people (diamond, 1987) .

In this paper, we analyzed the influence of the change of agricultural stratum on the distribution of social groups. The burial patterns of the ancients indicate social and economic differences: individuals buried in larger areas and more elaborate tombs with more valuable objects have higher social status than those without accompanying objects and smaller tomb area. Bone analysis showed that these socioeconomic status indicators were positively correlated with better nutrition and physical growth, and negatively correlated with signs of infectious diseases. In the eyes of the two researchers, the old story continues today: people with more resources are healthier than those with fewer resources, the distribution of social resources is greatly different, and social health is also different.. What matters is that these differences are not born with human beings, but rather the results of a relatively recent period after the agricultural revolution. These social changes, combined with reduced nutritional quality, increased population density and proximity to non-human animals, have led to the first major expansion of acute infectious diseases facing human species..

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.

[2]Evolutionary,historicalandpoliticaleconomicperspectivesonhea lthanddiseaseGeorgeJ.Armelagos , PeterJ.Brown ,BethanyTurneruff1bSocialScience&Medicine.

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