Think everyone died young in ancient societies? Think again

Aeon | 7/10/2018 | Staff
iVchan (Posted by) Level 3
This cartoon reflects a very common view of ancient lifespans, but it is based on a myth. People in the past were not all dead by 30. Ancient documents confirm this. In the 24th century BCE, the Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep wrote verses about the disintegrations of old age. The ancient Greeks classed old age among the divine curses, and their tombstones attest to survival well past 80 years. Ancient artworks and figurines also depict elderly people: stooped, flabby, wrinkled.

This is not the only type of evidence, however. Studies on extant traditional people who live far away from modern medicines and markets, such as Tanzania’s Hadza or Brazil’s Xilixana Yanomami, have demonstrated that the most likely age at death is far higher than most people assume: it’s about 70 years old. One study found that although there are differences in rates of death in various populations and periods, especially with regards to violence, there is a remarkable similarity between the mortality profiles of various traditional peoples.

Humans - Lifespan - Mortality - Rates - Populations

So it seems that humans evolved with a characteristic lifespan. Mortality rates in traditional populations are high during infancy, before decreasing sharply to remain constant till about 40 years, then mortality rises to peak at about 70. Most individuals remain healthy and vigorous right through their 60s or beyond, until senescence sets in, which is the physical decline where if one cause fails to kill, another will soon strike the mortal blow.

So what is the source of the myth that those in the past must have died young? One is to do with what we dig up. When ancient human remains are found, archaeologists and biological anthropologists examine the skeletons and attempt to estimate their sex, age and general health. Markers of growth and development, such as tooth eruption, provide relatively accurate age estimates of children....
(Excerpt) Read more at: Aeon
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