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One is that it was men-only. Another is that all of the men were illustrious enough to be remembered. Not everyone agrees.
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In , Gazzaniga published her research on more than 2, ancient Roman skeletons, all working-class people who were buried in common graves. Many showed the effects of trauma from hard labour, as well as diseases we would associate with later ages, like arthritis.
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Men might have borne numerous injuries from manual labour or military service. Throughout history, childbirth, often in poor hygienic conditions, is just one reason why women were at particular risk during their fertile years. Even pregnancy itself was a danger.
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So, for example, tuberculosis interacts with pregnancy in a very threatening way. And tuberculosis was a disease that had higher female than male mortality. Childbirth was worsened by other factors too. That malnutrition means that young girls often had incomplete development of pelvic bones, which then increased the risk of difficult child labour.
The difficulty in knowing for sure just how long our average predecessor lived, whether ancient or pre-historic, is the lack of data. When trying to determine average ages of death for ancient Romans, for example, anthropologists often rely on census returns from Roman Egypt. But because these papyri were used to collect taxes, they often under-reported men — as well as left out many babies and women. Tombstone inscriptions, left behind in their thousands by the Romans, are another obvious source.
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Those tell us that as many as one-third of infants died before the age of one, and half of children before age After that age your chances got significantly better. They are just less numerous at the end of the day because all of this attrition kicks in. Of course, that attrition is not to be sniffed at. The data gets better later in human history once governments begin to keep careful records of births, marriages and deaths — at first, particularly of nobles. Those records show that child mortality remained high. Did having money or power help?
Not always. One analysis of some , European nobles found that kings lived about six years less than lesser nobles, like knights. Demographic historians have found by looking at county parish registers that in 17th-Century England, life expectancy was longer for villagers than nobles. This was likely because royals tended to prefer to live for most of the year in cities , where they were exposed to more diseases. Is it still true that cities are less safe?
Find out more in our story on whether the countryside is a healthier place to live today. But interestingly, when the revolution came in medicine and public health, it helped elites before the rest of the population. By the late 17th Century, English nobles who made it to 25 went on to live longer than their non-noble counterparts — even as they continued to live in the more risk-ridden cities. Surely, by the soot-ridden era of Charles Dickens, life was unhealthy and short for nearly everyone?
Still no. A five-year-old girl would live to 73; a boy, to Not only are these numbers comparable to our own, they may be even better. What about if we look in the other direction in time — before any records at all were kept? Although it is obviously difficult to collect this kind of data, anthropologists have tried to substitute by looking at today's hunter-gatherer groups , such as the Ache of Paraguay and Hadza of Tanzania. Looking at dental wear on the skeletons of Anglo-Saxons buried about 1, years ago , they found that of skeletons, the majority belonged to people who were under 65 — but there also were 16 people who died between 65 and 74 years old and nine who reached at least 75 years of age.
Our maximum lifespan may not have changed much, if at all. Age of empires Back in a study looked at every man entered into the Oxford Classical Dictionary who lived in ancient Greece or Rome.
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