Prehistoric mothers may have cared for their children better than modern scientists first thought.
It has long been assumed that the death rate of babies in early human societies must have been very high.
That's because archaeologists have consistently found a lot of infants' remains in ancient burial grounds.
But a new study by The Australian National University suggests the child mortality rate during the Holocene period may not have been as high as previously accepted.
Instead, it could just show there were a lot of babies being born in that era.
The findings debunk beliefs that poor care and disease could have caused up to 40 per cent of babies to die in ancient populations.
It also opens up the possibility that mothers from early human societies may have been more capable of caring for their children than previously thought.
"The burial samples show no proof that a lot of babies were dying, but they do tell us a lot of babies were being born," biological anthropologist Clare McFadden said.
"If mothers during that time were having a lot of babies, then it seems reasonable to suggest they were capable of caring for their young children."
Researchers examined United Nations data from the past decade for 97 countries that looked at infant mortality, fertility, and the number of deaths that occurred during infancy.
Their analysis revealed that fertility had a much greater influence on the proportion of deceased infants than the mortality rate.
Dr McFadden said the UN data helped the team make interpretations about humans from the past 10,000 years because very little is actually known.
The team's findings could help researchers understand more about humans who inhabited the earth tens of thousands of years ago and in particular, how mothers in ancient societies cared for and interacted with their children.
"Artistic representations and popular culture tend to view our ancestors as these archaic and incapable people," Dr McFadden said.
"We forget their emotional experience and responses such as the desire to provide care and feelings of grief date back tens of thousands of years".
The research is published in the American Journal of Biological Anthropology on Tuesday.