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Abstract

This study investigates variation in body growth (cross-sectional height and weight velocity) among a sample of 22 small-scale societies. Considerable variation in growth exists among hunter-gatherers that overlaps heavily with growth trajectories present in groups focusing more on horticulture. Intergroup variation tends to track environmental conditions, with societies under more favorable conditions displaying faster growth and earlier puberty. In addition, faster/earlier development in females is correlated with higher mortality. For example, African “Pygmies,” Philippine “Negritos,” and the Hiwi of Venezuela are characterized by relatively fast child-juvenile growth for their adult body size (used as a proxy for energetic availability). In these societies, subadult survival is low, and puberty, menarche, and first reproduction are relatively early (given their adult body size), suggesting selective pressure for accelerated development in the face of higher mortality. In sum, the origin and maintenance of different human ontogenies may require explanations invoking both environmental constraints and selective pressures. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 18:295–311, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.