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A Short History of Longevity
It is a well-known myth that people barely lived out of their teens in the stone age, lived to their thirties in the middle ages, and now live twice as long. The truth is not as simple.
The average life expectancy of humans was about 26 in the Bronze Age, and is currently about 71.5. That’s a world-wide average, not regional. You would not expect a person living in a war-torn region to live as long as a person living in a peaceful region, for example.
The Bronze age seems like it was very long ago, but we actually only left it about 2600 years ago. Humanity itself is about 120,000 years old (by some measurements), so for more than 98% of the entire history of our race, we have only expected to live for about 26 years on average.
Life Expectancy of the world population
When we started living together in communities and cities, we started to take more of an interest in the health of our neighbours, and started learning to live longer.
The first cities were founded about 5000 years ago (about 3000BC) around areas where it was easy to farm. River valleys such as along the Nile in Egypt, along the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, along the Indus in India, or along the Yellow River in China.
Cities created some life-threatening problems that had not existed before, such as the threat of disease in close-knit communities, which caused life expectancy to drop to 26 from 33 in the Paleolithic era, but it also allowed us to learn how to live together without being constantly sick.
Proper spacing between buildings, for example, and basic sanitation, help to reduce the chance of spreading disease. Of course, for most of those 5000 years, we didn’t know what “disease” actually was, so we learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t.
The largest cause of early death was infant mortality, though.