Peo­ple lived well past 40 prior to modern medicine

Millennium Post - - AROUND TOWN -

It was com­mon for peo­ple to live to old ages in cul­tures through­out his­tory, a study has found, dis­pelling the myth that most hu­mans did not sur­vive past 40 prior to modern medicine.

Chris­tine Cave from Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity (ANU) has de­vel­oped a new method for de­ter­min­ing the age-ofdeath for skele­tal re­mains based on how worn the teeth are.

Us­ing her method, which she de­vel­oped by analysing the wear on teeth and com­par­ing with liv­ing pop­u­la­tions of com­pa­ra­ble cul­tures, she ex­am­ined the skele­tal re­mains of three An­glo-saxon English ceme­ter­ies for peo­ple buried be­tween the years 475 and 625.

The re­search, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of An­thro­po­log­i­cal Archaeology, deter­mined that it was not un­com­mon for peo­ple to live to old age.

“Peo­ple some­times think that in those days if you lived to 40 that was about as good as it got. But that’s not true,” said Cave.

“For peo­ple liv­ing tra­di­tional lives with­out modern medicine or mar­kets the most com­mon age of death is about 70, and that is re­mark­ably sim­i­lar across all dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” she said.

Cave said the myth has been built up due to de­fi­cien­cies in the way older peo­ple are cat­e­gorised in ar­chae­o­log­i­cal stud­ies.

“Older peo­ple have been very much ig­nored in ar­chae­o­log­i­cal stud­ies and part of the rea­son for that has been the in­abil­ity to iden­tify them,” she said.

“When you are de­ter­min­ing the age of chil­dren you use de­vel­op­men­tal points like tooth eruption or the fusion of bones that all hap­pen at a cer­tain age,” she added.

“Once peo­ple are fully grown it be­comes in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine their age from skele­tal re­mains, which is why most stud­ies just have a high­est age cat­e­gory of 40 plus or 45 plus,” she added.

“So ef­fec­tively they don’t dis­tin­guish be­tween a fit and healthy 40 year old and a frail 95 year old.

Cave said the new method will give ar­chae­ol­o­gists a more ac­cu­rate view of past so­ci­eties and what life was like for older peo­ple.

For those in the three ceme­ter­ies she stud­ied, she found a marked dif­fer­ence in the way male and fe­male peo­ple of old age were buried.

“Women were more likely to be given prom­i­nent buri­als if they died young, but were much less likely to be given one if they were old,” she said.

“The higher sta­tus men are gen­er­ally buried with weapons, like a spear and a shield or oc­ca­sion­ally a sword.

“Women were buried with jew­ellery, like brooches, beads and pins. This high­lights their beauty which helps ex­plain why most of the high-sta­tus buri­als for women were for those who were quite young,”

she said.

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