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Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives

How Evolution Has Shaped Women's Health

Wenda Trevathan, Ph.D.

Publication Date - 27 May 2010

ISBN: 9780195388886

272 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

An engaging and thought-provoking discussion of women's health issues from an evolutionary medicine viewpoint.


Winner of the 2011 W.W. Howells Book Award of the American Anthropological Association

How has bipedalism impacted human childbirth? Do PMS and postpartum depression have specific, maybe even beneficial, functions? These are only two of the many questions that specialists in evolutionary medicine seek to answer, and that anthropologist Wenda Trevathan addresses in Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives.

Exploring a range of women's health issues that may be viewed through an evolutionary lens, specifically focusing on reproduction, Trevathan delves into issues such as the medical consequences of early puberty in girls, the impact of migration, culture change, and poverty on reproductive health, and how fetal growth retardation affects health in later life. Hypothesizing that many of the health challenges faced by women today result from a mismatch between how their bodies have evolved and the contemporary environments in which modern humans live, Trevathan sheds light on the power and potential of examining the human life cycle from an evolutionary perspective, and how this could improve our understanding of women's health and our ability to confront health challenges in more creative, effective ways.

About the Author(s)

Wenda Trevathan, PhD, is the Regents Professor of Anthropology at New Mexico State University. A biological anthropologist whose research focuses on the evolutionary and biocultural factors underlying human reproduction, she published Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives in 2008 with OUP.


"This volume is the most recent of an increasing number of books on the evolutionary biology of disease. . .This book might be easier to read for nonspecialists. . .Nevertheless, for anyone with an interest in the evolution of disease. Evolutionary Medicine offers thought-provoking material."--The Quarterly Review of Biology

"This is a wonderful addition to Evolutionary Medicine, and both fill a unique niche. These are the best examples of why evolution is so pertinent to contemporary medicine. The chapters are provocative and force students to think in new ways. In some chapters, standard practice is turned on its head. We need future health practitioners to be thinking outside of the box. This book is an incredibly important contribution to the literature."--Joan Stevenson, Western Washington University

"From the remodeling of the birth canal of the pelvis, to the elaboration of post-menopausal life, to modern changes in the pace of childbearing and the in practice of breastfeeding, Wenda Trevathan shows how an evolutionary perspective can shed new and important light on contemporary issues in women's health. Written with clarity and authority, this is an important book for women, their doctors, and everyone interested in how the human condition has been shaped." --Peter T. Ellison, John Cowles Professor of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

"Written by a leading light in the field of evolutionary medicine, Wenda Trevathan's Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives describes how many contemporary health problems, particularly those of women, are the result of a mismatch between our "Stone Age" bodies that evolved over millions of years and our current (and radically changed) life styles. Thorough, authoritative, and easy to understand, this book offers suggestions for making informed decisions that impact the health of contemporary women and that of their children and their children's children. Run, don't walk (or stroll bipedally), to give this important and elegantly written book to your favorite bride-to-be, mother-to-be, mother, grandmother, or great grandmother! Inquisitive men will also find this book engaging." --Dean Falk, Ph.D., Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology, Florida State University, and author of Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language

"Dr. Trevathan has given us a thoroughly enjoyable and highly informative consideration of the challenges to good health faced by all contemporary women, whose physiology, morphology and psychobiology have been shaped by evolutionary processes acting over millions of years. Weaving together scientific evidence from anthropology, endocrinology, psychology, medicine and evolutionary biology, she offers a balanced view of complex issues in an accessible style sure to engage a wide audience....Academicians will value her rigorous scholarship and ample citations. But better still, Dr. Trevathan speaks directly and clearly to all those persons seeking to understand the fascinating variety and flexibility of women's bodies." --Virginia Vitzthum, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction; Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington


"The strength of the book is its integration of results from many fields of research that any reader will find informative, along with an invaluable bibliography." --THE QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY

"The casual but scientifically assertive tone of this book renders it particularly useful for students and novices in the field of evolutionary biology and anthropology. The author tackles complex concepts by providing basic theoretical foundations, followed by discussions of the issues, and, on occasion, a suggested 'solution'. A well-reasoned balance is achieved between scientific and social complexity and the 'bigger picture'. -- Anne L. Grauer, Department of Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL

"Though written by a scholar, this book is not only for academic audience. There is no doubt that as a whole or in the form of individual chapters, it can be used in classes of human evolution, gender and societies, and more. But every single woman, regardless of her age, should read this book open-mindedly because it can help understand problems they have experienced in the past or will experience in the future. And, more importantly, this book should be read also by men, with an even more open-minded attitude, because it can teach them a lot about their spouses or girlfriends, and will definitely help them in making decisions often and wrongly considered solely 'women's affairs'." -- Andrea Cucina, HOMO: Journal of Comparative Human Biology

Table of Contents

    Chapter One: What is Evolutionary Medicine and What Does It Have to Do with Women's Health?

    Chapter Two: Are We Grown Up Yet?

    Chapter Three: Vicious Cycles

    Chapter Four: Getting Pregnant: Why Can't Everyone Just Get Along?

    Chapter Five: Staying Pregnant

    Chapter Six: Welcome to the World

    Chapter Seven: The Greasy, Helpless One-Hour Old Human Newborn

    Chapter Eight: Women Are Defined By Their Breasts

    Chapter Nine: But Women Are More than Breasts

    Chapter Ten: If Reproduction Is What It's all About, Why Does It Stop?

    Chapter Eleven: What Good Are Old Women? Quite A Lot, Thank You

    Chapter Twelve: Implications for Women's Health In The 21st Century And Preventing The Epidemiological Collision

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