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Museums: The reality of how short our recent ancestors were

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  • Museums: The reality of how short our recent ancestors were

    A few months ago I took a trip to the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, and they had a couple skeletons of people found buried at the site in their museum.
    Well as I was looking at one I was shocked when I read that it was a male who died in his mid-30s because he looked so small! Even without skin and cartilage I could tell he would have barely been my height much less that of any of them men visiting that day.

    I watched a documentary that night about when they found the remains and, sure enough, the forensic anthropologist estimated he would have been 5'3. They figured out whom they think he was and apparently he grew up in a wealthy family.
    I guess that would have been short even for the 17th century, but it was definitely a striking example of an agricultural society without modern medicine gets you.

    Anyway, thought some of you Primal people might find that interesting.

  • #2
    Native americans seemed like giants when colonists arrived. They averaged near 5'10"!

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    • #3
      I'm 5'3". Except not really, because I'm also a toe walker. I'm more like 5'1". My younger brother is like 5'8" I think.

      Nutrition, genetic effects, etc.

      M.

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      • #4
        Jamestown was chartered by the East India Company, so in a way the original founding on US soil was a corporate venture. Kind of strange.....

        That aside, most of those people that came were destitute English that ate nothing but tack bread or grains all their lives. Hell, most would qualify as vegans. Only the relatively well to do could afford meat or milk.

        Went to a Havisu museum a few years ago in Arizona. The average man was 5 10, with a good portion over 6 2.
        "The soul that does not attempt flight; does not notice its chains."

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        • #5
          Yeah the "modern = healthy" crowd uses data about the mexican labor class from the 13th century as evidence of prehistoric humans; they just don't understand anything at all about people or the past or nature.
          "Ah, those endless forests, and their horror-haunted gloom! For what eternities have I wandered through them, a timid, hunted creature, starting at the least sound, frightened of my own shadow, keyed-up, ever alert and vigilant, ready on the instant to dash away in mad flight for my life. For I was the prey of all manner of fierce life that dwelt in the forest, and it was in ecstasies of fear that I fled before the hunting monsters."

          Jack london, "Before Adam"

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          • #6
            many of our earliest settlers came from generations of abject poverty, i.e. decades of malnutrition. compare that with our wealthy "founding fathers", like washington and jefferson, who were over 6 feet.
            As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

            Ernest Hemingway

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            • #7
              Very interesting you mention the founding fathers because many who study this skeleton have actually called him the forgotten founding father. If they have made a correct identification this was a man named Bartholomew Gosnell. He came from a wealthy family, was a "privateer" (read: pirate), an investor the Jamestown venture, and one of the founders of The Virginia Company which sponsored it.
              Even if it wasn't Gosnell, though, he was definitely European in ancenstory and not the result of abject poverty. It was noted that based on evidence from the bones it was very unlikely the man was a laborer because his bones showed less evidence of musculature than that of other bodies in the area (and there were many).
              Interestingly, one of the other main leaders, John Smith, was also known to be very short, although he was from a fairly humble background.

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              • #8
                And it was no wonder the settlers like to mess around with the natives, they were the best looking people in the world at the time. Most natives described colonists as "grey bags of bones"

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                • #9
                  Men From Early Middle Ages Were Nearly As Tall As Modern People

                  you may find this of interest. the skeletons in the study were from countries where dairy supplied lots of cals too.

                  after visiting a textile exhibit once, i commented to a collector friend how tiny so many of the garments were. she informed me that those clothes survived the centuries simply because most everybody else was too big to fit in them, so they never got handed down.
                  As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

                  Ernest Hemingway

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                  • #10
                    Greek hoplites, who averaged about 5'6" and 150 lbs, when fully armored, carried about 70 lbs of bronze armor. They were quite muscular and strong for their size. This says to me that humans actually declined in stature and strength in Europe and the New World since the 5th century BCE. Superior diet and training in the ancient world? I think so.

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                    • #11
                      A lot of the castles in the UK and Germany seem to have very short doorways. I've heard it is because people were shorter back them, but it might have just been an engineering thing.

                      Suits of armor, however, are pretty indicative of human size, and most of them are pretty small.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jfreaksho View Post
                        A lot of the castles in the UK and Germany seem to have very short doorways. I've heard it is because people were shorter back them, but it might have just been an engineering thing.

                        Suits of armor, however, are pretty indicative of human size, and most of them are pretty small.
                        Smaller doors are easier to defend.

                        Armour seems to indicate the average height of the fighting class was about the average height of today, within an inch or so.

                        Trying to find this youtube video on the subject but it eludes me! It was pretty well done.

                        Now what's interesting is the children...this came up in another thread here. Kids seemed significantly shorter. Their growth spurt seemed to kick in later.

                        M.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Fdispenza View Post
                          Greek hoplites, who averaged about 5'6" and 150 lbs, when fully armored, carried about 70 lbs of bronze armor. They were quite muscular and strong for their size. This says to me that humans actually declined in stature and strength in Europe and the New World since the 5th century BCE. Superior diet and training in the ancient world? I think so.
                          With such blatant inequality between men and women, Greek culture and society were doomed to failure. I would much rather have been an ancient Celt!

                          On the subject of height, Audie Murphy, the most decorated US soldier in WWII, stood all of 5'5" tall, and was initially rejected by the army, navy and marines because he was underweight!

                          "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."
                          Last edited by SumoFit; 01-30-2014, 08:34 PM.

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                          • #14
                            There is a life-sized statue of Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, FL. It is 5 feet tall, and he was the tallest of his crew.
                            As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.

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                            • #15
                              and henry viii was 6'2". anectodal shorties don't mean much. the average size wasn't much smaller than average of today. a couple inches at most.

                              of course, when i am exhumed centuries from now, the diggers will say "wow!! ladies were so small back then!!"
                              As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

                              Ernest Hemingway

                              Comment

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