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LeBrok
03-10-11, 10:57
Every so often I noticed that people love to exaggerate quality of life of our ancestors. Old times are romanticized and we only concentrate on glorious battles, and famous individuals. There is not much help from TV and books either, emphasizing only what people love to watch or read, and not necessarily portraying realistic view of life of our ancestors. In Hollywood movies people never works too hard, they have time to enjoy life, they are always dressed in clean clothes, hair is meticulous, makeup is done, and they do mostly heroic actions or romantic love.

So how comfortably ordinary folks had lived in the past?

Except for some elite, like kings and nobles, life was very harsh for 99 percent of ordinary people, from dawn of human kind till 19th century, when thanks to science and industrial revolution things started to improve slowly.

In the past, for this 99% of ancestors, life wasn’t peachy at all. For last 5,000 years of Europe agricultural and herding past, ordinary family lived in a small house mostly composed of two rooms. One room was design to keep animals like cows and pigs, the other room for people. Entire family averaging 5 people, often up to 10, had to share this one room. How they could fit in two or three beds was an art by itself. House was poorly insulated, freezing in winter, no running water, maybe lit by one candle if family could afford. Forget about daily showers, one was lucky to have a bath once a month in washtub, and most likely after father, mother and few siblings already bathed in same water. (And we are complaining about our privacy these days?)

Houses were infested with bugs, where cockroaches were the least nuisance. Blood sucking bedbugs lived in every mattress (made of straw). Clothing lice, head lice, or pubic lice (yes, there were specialized bugs like these, I’m not making it up) and fleas didn’t leave the poor soles even for a moment, very often transmitting many diseases hopping from people to people.
For people not familiar with these beasts, here is the link:
http://www.medicinenet.com/bad_bugs_pictures_slideshow/article.htm (http://www.medicinenet.com/bad_bugs_pictures_slideshow/article.htm)


To make lives even more miserable every living sole was a carrier of worms inside. The selection is not small either. Most common worms were pinworm, tapeworm, hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and the list goes on.
Want to really get scared read some more here:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=worms-human-parasites (http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=worms-human-parasites)
No wonder the average life span was 35 years.

It brings another point. Almost every parent back then experienced death of a child, and some have seen all the kids’ death. Big majority of parents in today’s developed world will never know this biggest pain human can experience. From records we know that ancient populations’ growth was slow if any. It meant that most of kids from the past never lived till adulthood.

Other killers of kids were infectious diseases which now are eradicated or under control of immunization: Smallpox, Rinderpest, Polio, Measles, and Rubella.

Food was scarce, and we know this from archeology, measuring average height of our ancestors. They had signs of malnutrition and were 20 cm shorter than people today. Even till twentieth century there was a tradition in rural homes that father always eats first. It was important that father lives by all means. If father died it meant demise for the whole family. If kid died,…there were still others and father that feeds them. Sad but true.
(It was hard being an atheist in the past. Spirituality and religion gave you hope that your everyday suffering won’t go to waste. Life sucks big time but there will be only joy and pleasure in heaven, as a reward for all the misery.)

Despite being a kid, children had to work from the moment they could carry something. In old fashion agricultural way of life father and mother were not able to work hard enough to support big families. Kids had to work from necessity, they had to bring wood, carry water, herd cows and sheep, and most of all older siblings took care of younger ones. It gave mother more time to take care of domestic animals around the house and sometimes help husband in field work. Older girls helped with cooking, and older boys were working with father in fields. Before feudalism, boys also had to learn how to fight with weapons and be warriors.
Only thanks to our industrial societies nowadays parents can produce enough for whole family, so kids don’t need to work, can go to school and play all day.
In the past 8 hour days of work, free weekend, vacation and hobbies were unheard of.
Pay inequality was narrow, but everybody was poor and lacked free time. Imagine that.


Mothers had to cook from scratch, few meals for small “army” every day. Every piece of clothing was made by hand, and washed only few times a year just in water. People walked mostly barefoot, except in winter. If you had a rotten, painful tooth, you went to blacksmith to pull it off without anesthetic. Everybody stunk, hair was greasy, dirt behind fingernails, filthy cloths (by our standards). Everyday cloths were mostly gray in natural colour of linen and wool. Dyes were difficult to make and expensive to buy.

Freedom of religion? - Everybody in a village believed in same faith.

Freedom of expression? – Not many gays were brave enough to come out of closet. If they had, they didn’t live too long.

Romantic love? – Call the matchmaker, she knows the best. It’ll be arranged, plus two cows and a pig for a bride.

Village justice was swift and unforgiving. Everything that went against village tradition, custom and faith was eradicated rather quickly.



I don’t know about you, but I’ll take living in our current western world any time over lives of our ancestors, even if I was a Cesar.
If you think your life is miserable and cruel and falling apart, take a moment and think about the “joyful” life of our folks in the past.

Mzungu mchagga
03-10-11, 13:26
Oh wow great research!

For me the very interesting thing is that this description also matches almost perfectly today's life in rural Africa. Really! Except for the winter-part, and some infections like smallpox can be replaced by HIV. Oh, and clothes are usually not self-made anymore.

Carlos
03-10-11, 15:53
I think in some parts of Africa are dying of diseases due to terrible living conditions and others, but HIV has never been isolated and contains a list of traditional diseases each year which have been adding more and more traditional diseases . For us, the AIDS dissidents is a process of toxic or nutritional origin, not contagious, so Big Pharma is a contagious virus. It is a taboo subject in the Spanish media but has been covered in sweat-American media without any taboo.

Maciamo
03-10-11, 17:20
Great post, LeBrok ! I have recently read At Home, a short history of private life, by Bill Bryson (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0552772550?ie=UTF8&tag=eupedia-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0552772550), which I heartily recommend if you want to get a more detailed idea of what everyday life was in past centuries.

sparkey
03-10-11, 20:36
Good research, LeBrok, looks legit. I say that because I've seen similar lists (http://www.snopes.com/language/phrases/1500.asp) that just make stuff up.

Glorification of ancestors and nostalgia for the past is a typically human thing to do. But life for many of our ancestors would have been awful to live, and many of them would have been awful people. Learning about one's ancestors is important, but glorification is the wrong way to go.

I do a bit of genealogy and I was researching an ancestor of mine who lived in a swampy forest in rural South Carolina nearly 200 years ago. He had to live through a major measles outbreak and lost sons in the Civil War. He also fathered illegitimate children and helped the US government in Indian Removal. Not a life to glorify or to desire to relive... but fascinating to learn about.

Antigone
03-10-11, 21:10
I know just what you mean Sparkey, I've got a couple of convict ancestors and a sailor who had 3 wives, a mistress plus the respective children all on the go at once. There is some truth to a wife in every port! But they are the ancestors who are the easiest and most interesting for us to research, the quiet ones who live a decent life hardly leave a trace except for names and dates.

Nice work Lebrok. Where have you centered your research? Canada, US, Europe or a mixture of all?

Mzungu mchagga
03-10-11, 22:46
There is a written record about an ancestor of mine in 1702. He served as a soldier in the Prussian Army and was caught after theft. He had already sold the stolen property and invested it into alcohol, as he was also an alcoholic. When the police arrested him he cursed on the King, God and the devil, that's why he was brought to Frederick I of Prussia personally for death sentence. Frederick pardoned him because of unfaulty "bestial stupidity". After that the law for death penalty on cursing on God was abolished in Prussia and subsequently also in other parts of Germany. At least one member of my family has achieved something... *lol*

LeBrok
04-10-11, 09:09
Nice work Lebrok. Where have you centered your research? Canada, US, Europe or a mixture of all?

Parts of it like diseases and parasites where common in Europe and around from first hominids till fairly recent. The way of life though is mostly based on agricultural society of Europe from around 6000 years ago till industrial revolution.

Most of info was collected in my head from all historical programs I've ever watched, and few things I've read. Somehow I retained these details building a picture of everyday life of the past.

I wanted to add much more but the post was getting a bit too long for a casual read.


Thanks for nice words everyone. :)

Antigone
04-10-11, 13:11
If you have more to add perhaps you could think about doing a series of posts, if you have time? Easy for me to say, of course, I'm not the one who is doing all the work here! But your topic was interesting and certainly made an enjoyable change from the endless squabbles over Iberia and the hair and skin colour of Spaniards. (lol)

Ivan
04-10-11, 18:00
...and yet they somehow survived, probably mostly by having this naughty romanticism for life, giving us the possibility to live our lives so clean today.

Yes you are right about their lives being inglorious, but the glory for today's abundances goes to them. There is nothing inglorious in how they lived their lives in such circumstances, and yet there are much of inglorious deeds in our times, despite the advantages.

This reminds me of a stand up comedian from my country talking about Bear Grills crazy behavior of eating anything dead. He then stated that if being in a similar occasion he would just let himself die, rather than eating the same stuff. And if Bear Grills somehow comes upon his dead body he just might have a nice meal.

I Believe there is a place for this eyeopener of yours, alongside with a healthy dose of romanticism. First one to help us understand the circumstances and the other to make us interested in such times, in the first place.

LeBrok
05-10-11, 10:30
Hi Ivan, the title was a bit exaggerated to catch attention of fellows Eupedians to my post, hehe. They had very common lives back than, nothing special. Their ordinary lives became only quite awful by our standards today.
It's true that romanticism, you mentioned, and also spirituality, love, humor, sense of duty, hope helped them a lot to live and raise kids in spite of all the misery, pain and short lives.
From all the creatures on this planet only Homo Sapiens can use logic to come to the conclusion that to live to suffer doesn't make sense, and we are only spices that can use same logic to find ways to end our lives in suicide.
It makes sense that this arsenal of only human elements, like spirituality, romanticism, hope (probably few more things) evolved to keep us alive. Constant pain is a terrible combination with logical mind. That's why we have majority of spiritual and religious people on this planet, and so few true atheists.

It always baffled me why spiritual people, people believing in god and afterlife, will cling to life so strongly, even in face of constant pain and misery in their lives, knowing that after death they will experience a happy existence.
I know Christianity made a big statement about this proclaiming that suicide is a mortal sin, and people with easy life have lower chance getting to heaven than people suffering a lot.
However, from evolutionary point of view we can deduct that if there were people thinking like this and acting upon it, they lived shorter and left fewer offspring. It might mean that majority of spiritual people, descendents of ones that made choice to live, found something else that keeps them alive. What could it be then, doubts about afterlife? Fear of death? Overdose of hope?

Antigone
05-10-11, 13:38
Ok, whilst it is inaccurate to romanticise the past it is also inaccurate to use modern ideals, values and thought to evaluate the past. Our ancestors did not think like us and what we may find abhorent today (discrimination, slavery, racism, homophobia, sexism, violence, wife beating, child labour, social class etc etc) would have been perfectly acceptable part of life to the vast majority of people.

But, I think you are overstating the pain, misery and unhappiness side of it a bit, because

a) Unlike us, they didn't know any different, it was how life was and had always been for everyone. So, how do we know for sure that they were so miserable and unhappy everyday?

b) Again unlike us, who are used to a (physically) pain free life our ancestors would have lived with pain as a constant part of existance. Infections, chillblanes, toothache (although bad teeth didn't become a real problem until sugar was introduced to Europe and, much later, became affordable to everyone), arthritis, headache, gallstones or whatever. So, I think, that people of the past would have had a higher pain threshold and tolerance than us and would have been able to withstand much of what we cannot today. I also think they had a better immune system than us and were able to fight off common diseases more easily than we can today, we who are used to an (almost) clinically hygenic existance.

But, the amount of pain would also depend on how effective traditional home remedies for common complaints were. I think much of what our ancestors knew is lost to us today with our over dependance on the modern pharmaceutical industry, or possibly we are only now rediscovering some of it?

Another point, heavens the longer I sit here the more I think of. Our ancestors were high on alcohol most of the time! Until coffee and tea were introduced and became affordable, everyone drank beer. Water mostly wasn't safe to drink so men, women and children drank beer for breadfast, lunch, dinner and probably in between as well. Although, beer wasn't just a safe fluid intake it was also a nutritious part of the everyday diet. I suppose it could also be argued that as everyone was hard working the alcohol would not have affected them so much, or that because beer was drunk everyday their tolerance to alcohol would have been greater but how much pain did they really feel?

Just some thoughts anyway.

Ivan
05-10-11, 18:01
##########

Ivan
05-10-11, 18:34
Hi Ivan, the title was a bit exaggerated to catch attention of fellows Eupedians to my post

Yes, I guessed it.
I just had to give some praise to our ancestors, too.

LeBrok
07-10-11, 09:13
But, I think you are overstating the pain, misery and unhappiness side of it a bit...

Sure I did, to concentrate on things that are usually omitted when talked about our ancestors.



a) Unlike us, they didn't know any different, it was how life was and had always been for everyone. So, how do we know for sure that they were so miserable and unhappy everyday?
b) Again unlike us, who are used to a (physically) pain free life our ancestors would have lived with pain as a constant part of existance. Infections, chillblanes, toothache (although bad teeth didn't become a real problem until sugar was introduced to Europe and, much later, became affordable to everyone), arthritis, headache, gallstones or whatever. So, I think, that people of the past would have had a higher pain threshold and tolerance than us and would have been able to withstand much of what we cannot today. I also think they had a better immune system than us and were able to fight off common diseases more easily than we can today, we who are used to an (almost) clinically hygenic existance.


That's true, they had only others like them to compare to, not to us and our lives.
The ones that survived through childhood were much tougher than most of us today. If not our advanced medicine most of us would be long gone.
I'm still not sure if they were less happy than us. Most happiness come form being positive/optimistic and I think people are born this way. Some of us are easy going from moment of birth and easily get happy of little things in life. Some of us are grumpy, angry and sad even if having a good life and a thick wallet.
I'm sure though, that we suffer less and are exposed to less pain than them. We are not bitten by flees and lice, and our kids didn't die that often, plus we don't walk hungry for days, etc.
I don't think that anyone can get used to pain much, maybe a little. I have migraines all my life and by age of 46 I should get use to this pain. No such luck, it always hurts the same way, same bad. Thank god for Zomig.:grin:




Another point, heavens the longer I sit here the more I think of. Our ancestors were high on alcohol most of the time! Until coffee and tea were introduced and became affordable, everyone drank beer. Water mostly wasn't safe to drink so men, women and children drank beer for breadfast, lunch, dinner and probably in between as well. Although, beer wasn't just a safe fluid intake it was also a nutritious part of the everyday diet. I suppose it could also be argued that as everyone was hard working the alcohol would not have affected them so much, or that because beer was drunk everyday their tolerance to alcohol would have been greater but how much pain did they really feel?

Actually well water is very safe to drink in most Europe. Boiling water was a common practice too.
Besides this I agree, they knew how to make alcoholic beverages for last few thousand of years, maybe even longer. It's hard to say how much they drunk on daily bases, I've never found any records about this habit. One thing is certain that they drunk enough to encourage genetic mutation to help them oxidize or digest alcohol rather quickly, unlike people of other races.
Here is an interesting link about this:
http://books.google.ca/books?id=RXOCobCfjk4C&pg=PT30&lpg=PT30&dq=digestion+of+alcohol+by+caucasians&source=bl&ots=8FXWUwEueM&sig=mCw9pBKasdpXDgAaglft6ZThVCo&hl=en&ei=D5KOTvf5AuzEsQLiyNCQAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEgQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Nice talking to you
Later

himagain
02-02-12, 04:39
When I was young, children in France drank wine with the family. My own USA family, of German ancestry, allowed my brothers and me to drink beer with them. Not everyone becomes alcoholic because most of us are not predisposed to alcoholism. I also wonder if alcohol was not doled out just as all food had to be, so that most of the family members did not get too much at a time?

LeBrok
02-02-12, 09:48
5456

Here are the drunks of the world. Interesting is that Mediterranean Europe doesn't drink much, maybe because they have couple of thousand of years longer evolution with it than northern Europe? They didn't share manual, lol.
Map is not much surprising, except south Korea and Portugal. To much Swabian influence in Portugal, or maybe migration from Karpatian Galicia? ;)

Mzungu mchagga
02-02-12, 17:28
5456

Here are the drunks of the world. Interesting is that Mediterranean Europe doesn't drink much, maybe because they have couple of thousand of years longer evolution with it than northern Europe? They didn't share manual, lol.
Map is not much surprising, except south Korea and Portugal. To much Swabian influence in Portugal, or maybe migration from Karpatian Galicia? ;)

Or they need less alcohol in order to feel the effect!

Also an interesting site:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_belts_of_Europe The alcohol belts of Europe

sparkey
02-02-12, 19:22
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_belts_of_Europe The alcohol belts of Europe

Cool map. It should also have a "cider belt," including Cornwall and some of the rest of SW Britain, Normandy, and Brittany. (Although I must say, having... erm... sampled quite a bit of both, Cornish scrumpy and Norman cidre are totally incomparable).

Mzungu mchagga
03-02-12, 19:09
Cool map. It should also have a "cider belt," including Cornwall and some of the rest of SW Britain, Normandy, and Brittany. (Although I must say, having... erm... sampled quite a bit of both, Cornish scrumpy and Norman cidre are totally incomparable).

It says that the "cider belt" is already included in the "wine belt". It somewhat correlates with the northern border of the "wine belt". According to wikipedia, regions famous for cider are South-West England, East Anglia, Brittany, Normandy, Basque Country, Principality of Asturias, Galicia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cider

sparkey
03-02-12, 20:47
Actually, I suspect that there would be a lot of similarity between the beer vs. wine vs. vodka map, and a map of what type of spirits are regularly produced/consumed in the different regions. That is, the beer belt and vodka belt share a taste for grain-based spirits (whiskey, korn, vodka, and flavored ones like gin), while the wine belt favors brandies (grape brandy and also others, like calvados, kirschwasser, etc.).

hope
29-03-12, 21:30
Or they need less alcohol in order to feel the effect!

Also an interesting site:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_belts_of_Europe The alcohol belts of Europe
What does the dark grey on the map indicate? No, don`t answer I see it now :)

Michael Folkesson
31-03-12, 21:05
I was briefly picturing The Little House On the Prairie when I read the OP and compared it with the classic Swedish novel suite of four books called The Emigrants that were also filmed. They were written about the 25 % of the Swedish population who left our country for the USA in the mid 1800's and forward into the early 1900's, covering many hardships.

I think that if we don't romanticize things we exaggerate aspects that stand out or we wish to portray. The seventies was not at all love, peace, drugs and political issues for my parents in Sweden, even though it was the zeitgeist.

hope
01-04-12, 02:47
Agreed ! Very good points Le Brok :)

LeBrok
16-02-17, 21:44
Interesting thread and article:
http://www.eupedia.com/forum/threads/33582-women-died-young-in-neolithic-Asikli-Hoyuk-and-Abu-Hureyra?p=501935#post501935