Comparisons of age-at-death distributions among extinct hominins and extant nonhuman primates indicate normal mortality

Kieran Baughan, Katharine L. Balolia, Marc Oxenham, Clare McFadden* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most modern mammalian populations exhibit higher mortality at both ends of the age-at-death distribution. Yet our hominin ancestors reportedly do not exhibit this same distribution, with explanations ranging from predation to taphonomic causes. This paper compares mortality distributions of extant non-human primates to fossil hominins by applying the D0-14/D ageat-death estimation method. Using subadult and adult counts for four extinct hominin taxa, we fitted the hominin data to a modern human mortality curve, resulting in hypothetical mortality distributions. With the expectation that fossil hominin taxa likely fall somewhere on the continuum of non-human primate to human life histories, we compared the distributions to those of five extant catarrhine primate populations. Subadult mortality amongst the extinct hominin groups was typically within the range of that of extant non-human primate groups,
and the previously reported high mortality amongst young and middle aged adults in hominin assemblages may be explained by normal, multi-cause deaths.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-315
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Anthropological Research
Issue number3
Early online date25 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their constructive and helpful feedback, which has undoubtedly improved this manuscript.

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from published resources as cited within the manuscript and collated on Github


  • Paleoanthropology
  • Paleodemography
  • Catastrophic mortality
  • Life history


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