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Mortality, fertility, and the OY ratio in a model hunter–gatherer system



An agent-based model (ABM) is used to explore how the ratio of old to young adults (the OY ratio) in a sample of dead individuals is related to aspects of mortality, fertility, and longevity experienced by the living population from which the sample was drawn. The ABM features representations of rules, behaviors, and constraints that affect person- and household-level decisions about marriage, reproduction, and infant mortality in hunter–gatherer systems. The demographic characteristics of the larger model system emerge through human-level interactions playing out in the context of “global” parameters that can be adjusted to produce a range of mortality and fertility conditions. Model data show a relationship between the OY ratios of living populations (the living OY ratio) and assemblages of dead individuals drawn from those populations (the dead OY ratio) that is consistent with that from empirically known ethnographic hunter–gatherer cases. The dead OY ratio is clearly related to the mean ages, mean adult mortality rates, and mean total fertility rates experienced by living populations in the model. Sample size exerts a strong effect on the accuracy with which the calculated dead OY ratio reflects the actual dead OY ratio of the complete assemblage. These results demonstrate that the dead OY ratio is a potentially useful metric for paleodemographic analysis of changes in mortality and mean age, and suggest that, in general, hunter–gatherer populations with higher mortality, higher fertility, and lower mean ages are characterized by lower dead OY ratios. Am J Phys Anthropol 154:222–231, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.