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What Can Be Learned from Skeletons that Might Interest Economists, Historians, and Other Social Scientists?

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  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

Economists and other scholars have long sought to measure and analyze long-term trends and differences in social performance. Average stature supplements and lengthens data series on traditional measures of life expectancy and real GDP per capita. This paper presents a methodology for using skeletal remains to greatly extend the chronological and cultural reach of anthropometric measures. Bones are widely available for study and unlike stature, they portray health over the life cycle, depicting both childhood and processes of aging and degeneration. The paper briefly explains seven skeletal measures widely used in physical anthropology and discusses procedures for summarizing community health in the form of an index. Results are based on a sample of over 12,000 individuals who lived at 65 localities in the Western Hemisphere over the past several millennia. Results challenge conceptions of the pre-Columbian disease environment, and the methods can be used to test models of very long-term economic growth and to study important aspects of human welfare during climate change.
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Suggested Citation

  • Richard H. Steckel, 2003. "What Can Be Learned from Skeletons that Might Interest Economists, Historians, and Other Social Scientists?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 213-220, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:93:y:2003:i:2:p:213-220
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/000282803321947074
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jones Charles I., 2001. "Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-45, August.
    2. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "A theory of technophysio evolution, with some implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(1), pages 49-66, February.
    3. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 2002. "Malthus to Solow," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1205-1217, September.
    4. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
    5. Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2001. "Tropical Underdevelopment," NBER Working Papers 8119, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Izdebski, Adam & Koloch, Grzegorz & Słoczyński, Tymon & Tycner, Marta, 2016. "On the use of palynological data in economic history: New methods and an application to agricultural output in Central Europe, 0–2000AD," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 17-39.
    2. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
    3. Godoy, Ricardo & Reyes-Garcia, Victoria & Huanca, Tomas & Tanner, Susan & Leonard, William R. & McDade, Thomas & Vadez, Vincent, 2005. "Do smiles have a face value? Panel evidence from Amazonian Indians," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 469-490, August.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • O0 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - General

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