Computer simulations provide new mathematical support for the “grandmother hypothesis” – a famous theory that humans evolved longer adult lifespans than apes because grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren. “Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are,” says Kristen Hawkes.
The simulations indicate that with only a little bit of grandmothering – and without any assumptions about human brain size – animals with chimpanzee lifespans evolve in less than 60,000 years so they have a human lifespan. Female chimps rarely live past child-bearing years, usually into their 30s and sometimes their 40s. Human females often live decades past their child-bearing years. The findings showed that from the time adulthood is reached, the simulated creatures lived another 25 years like chimps, yet after 24,000 to 60,000 years of grandmothers caring for grandchildren, the creatures who reached adulthood lived another 49 years – as do human hunter-gatherers.