Sasaki T, Kondo O. Maximum likelihood estimate of life expectancy in the prehistoric Jomon: Canine pulp volume reduction suggests a longer life expectancy than previously thought. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2016 Sep;161(1):170-80. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.23018. Epub 2016 Jun 27.
Recent theoretical progress potentially refutes past claims that paleodemographic estimations are flawed by statistical problems, including age mimicry and sample bias due to differential preservation. The life expectancy at age 15 of the Jomon period prehistoric populace in Japan was initially estimated to have been ∼16 years while a more recent analysis suggested 31.5 years. In this study, we provide alternative results based on a new methodology. The material comprises 234 mandibular canines from Jomon period skeletal remains and a reference sample of 363 mandibular canines of recent-modern Japanese. Dental pulp reduction is used as the age-indicator, which because of tooth durability is presumed to minimize the effect of differential preservation. Maximum likelihood estimation, which theoretically avoids age mimicry, was applied. Our methods also adjusted for the known pulp volume reduction rate among recent-modern Japanese to provide a better fit for observations in the Jomon period sample. Without adjustment for the known rate in pulp volume reduction, estimates of Jomon life expectancy at age 15 were dubiously long. However, when the rate was adjusted, the estimate results in a value that falls within the range of modern hunter-gatherers, with significantly better fit to the observations. The rate-adjusted result of 32.2 years more likely represents the true life expectancy of the Jomon people at age 15, than the result without adjustment. Considering ∼7% rate of antemortem loss of the mandibular canine observed in our Jomon period sample, actual life expectancy at age 15 may have been as high as ∼35.3 years.