The author of the best-selling and prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse wrote this piece earlier in his career about the worst mistake human beings have made: settling down into societies and pursuing agriculture. As Diamond’s works tend to do, this piece makes you think.
One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunter-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5′ 9″ for men, 5′ 5″ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B.C. had reached a low of only 5′ 3″ for men, 5′ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.