Paleodemography of a medieval population in Japan: analysis of human skeletal remains from the Yuigahama-minami site.

Am J Phys Anthropol 2006 Sep;131(1):1-14

Department of Anatomy, St. Marianna University School of Medicine, Miyamae Ward, Kawasaki, Kanagawa 216-8511, Japan.

The purpose of this study is to obtain demographic data regarding the medieval population buried at the Yuigahama-minami site in Kamakura, Japan, and to detect a secular trend in the life expectancy of Japanese population over the last several thousand years. The Yuigahama-minami skeletal sample consists of 260 individuals, including 98 subadults (under 20 years old) and 162 adults. A Yuigahama-minami abridged life-table analysis yielded a life expectancy at birth (e0) of 24.0 years for both sexes, a life expectancy at age 15 years (e15) of 15.8 years for males, and an e15 of 18.0 years for females. The reliability of the estimated e0 was confirmed by analysis of the juvenility index. Demographic profiles comparing the Yuigahama-minami series with other skeletal series indicated that both the survivorship curve and life expectancy of the Yuigahama-minami sample are similar to those of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Jomon population, but are far lower than those of the early modern Edo population. These comparisons strongly suggest that life expectancy changed little over the thousands of years between the Mesolithic-Neolithic Jomon and medieval periods, but then improved remarkably during the few hundred years between the medieval period and early modern Edo period. The short-lived tendency of the Yuigahama-minami sample does not contradict the archaeological hypothesis of unsanitary living conditions in medieval Kamakura. This is the first investigation to address the demographic features of a medieval population in Japan, and will help refine our understanding of long-term trends in the demographic profiles of inhabitants of Japan.

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