Think you’re bad at life? Ancient people drilled their teeth with sharp stones and died from stress in their 20s

Anthropologist, well-known popularizer of science, candidate of biological sciences, associate professor of the Department of Anthropology of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University Stanislav Drobyshevsky spoke about everything that is known to science about the health and diseases of our distant ancestors

Anthropologist, well-known popularizer of science, candidate of biological sciences, associate professor of the Department of Anthropology of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University Stanislav Drobyshevsky spoke about everything that is known to science about the health and diseases of our distant ancestors

A photo: Shutterstock

Stress – the trouble of modern civilization? What about hormonal imbalances? Caries – from sweets and sugar? Overweight – from fast food? Preservatives in food and exhaust gases in the air also do not add health to the citizens of the XXI century. But if you think like that, it turns out that primitive people should have been perfectly healthy. The food is exclusively natural, the air is fresh, fitness is every day: run after a mammoth, collect firewood for a fire.

On the other hand, we seem to know from school that ancient people lived very little, up to 20 – 30 years. Did predators eat everyone? Or did they still get sick? Maybe the current fashion for natural and environmentally friendly is not such a direct path to health?

Anthropologist, well-known popularizer of science, Candidate of Biology, Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University Stanislav Drobyshevsky spoke about everything that is known to the science of the health and diseases of our distant ancestors at the “Scientists Against Myths” festival. We are talking about a variety of types of ancient people: from Pithecanthropus to Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. There are also enough analogies with modern people.


– There are many different myths about our ancestors, – states Stanislav Drobyshevsky. – In particular: the ancients quickly matured and grew old, gave birth at 15 and died at 25. In fact, it was different. The oldest Australopithecus (distant human ancestors who lived 4 – 2 million years ago. – L.S.) is about 33 years old. Age of Christ practically. On the other hand, among the most ancient Homo is a granny from Dmanisi (a city in Georgia where the remains of ancient people who lived about 1.7 million years ago were found. – L.S.), she is about 80 years old. But only among the Cro-Magnons (that is, 40 – 30 thousand years ago. – L. S.) more or less “elderly” characters, about 50 years old, consistently appear.

But keep in mind that these are the oldest representatives. The average life expectancy of Australopithecus is 12-15 years. The Heidelbergers (this kind of ancient people lived 800 – 130 thousand years ago. – L.S.) – from 14 to 21 years old, So this is not such a myth.


– There is another myth – the ancients died young, but healthy. Sometimes it was. For example, the burial of Barma Grandi in Italy – everyone is healthy! They were studied, there are no pathologies. But we must remember that we do not see everything by the bones. If a person died from pulmonary tuberculosis, this will not affect the bones in any way. The skeleton of a 9-year-old child was found in the Okladnikov cave in Altai – judging by osteoporosis, his biological age was somewhere around 55 years old. He died young, but not very healthy. The deterioration of the body was such that I had not grown up to this yet. In general, life was not very simple, – the anthropologist states.

Scientists know, for example, a man with congenitally shortened legs – he lived in Egypt 35 thousand years ago

– He could not quickly run across the Sahara for gazelles – and was engaged in the extraction of flint shale. The first miner, by the way! He lived for 25 years, and his bones were completely worn out. The wear and tear of the whole body was crazy.

Maybe they ate poorly, ate little vitamins? Or was it too hard to get food and skins?

– Undernourished – it happened. But sometimes luck smiled at them. For example, in Amvrosievka (a site of primitive people not far from Donetsk. – L.S.) there are from half a thousand to a thousand bones of bison. They were driven into a ravine and felt great. And there are plenty of such places. But if the food ran out, nothing prevented them from getting up and migrating a thousand kilometers.

However, the food was, although natural, but not always healthy:

– In Trinili on the island of Java, the Pithecanthropus ate something sprinkled with volcanic ash. And earned fluoride intoxication. From what there were growths on the femur, he limped. And he was eaten by a crocodile.


A shocking fact is that Stone Age dentists (yes, they already existed then!) drilled patients’ teeth with a sharp stone. How they were removed – history is silent. Maybe for the better.

And yes, primitive people had caries. Although they did not yet know sugar, especially sweets.

– The Olduvai hominid (a lot of the remains of primitive people were found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. – L.S.) has a hole in its teeth, formed due to eating sour fruits. In Dmanisi there is a skull with caries, Drobyshevsky admits.

And the first ever dentist worked in northern Italy 14,000 years ago. He drilled out caries with a flint point. The ancient seal is 6.5 thousand years old – it is made of beeswax (this is another find, in Slovenia).


– There is a myth that ancient people were not overweight, they were slim. But we have portraits – Upper Paleolithic Venuses, – continues Stanislav Drobyshevsky. – Most Venuses are famous for curvaceous. It remains to be guessed: the ancient people wanted them to have such, or portrayed what they have. In any case, they had some kind of sample before their eyes.


Again, everything happened. The skeleton of a woman who died during childbirth has been found in Australia. And the skeleton of an unborn baby in her pelvic bones. The story is not just sad, but creepy: an uncommon skull is broken. The anthropologist suggests that this was done by “good” relatives – with a stone or a club. They could not help giving birth, there was no such knowledge. And they helped me stop suffering.

And Neanderthals may have died out altogether due to hormonal problems. They have several cases of internal frontal hyperostosis. And as a result – problems with bearing, birth and feeding.

– When the Cro-Magnons came who did not have such problems. Neanderthals were at a demographic loss, Drobyshevsky suggests.


But maybe they didn’t have stress? It can be checked, oddly enough. Stressful situations leave traces. Enamel hypoplasia on the teeth is best studied, – says the fighter with myths.

After severe stress and serious life problems, hypoplastic stripes remain on the enamel. So, they were found in the Heidelberg man, and in the inhabitants of Dmanisi in Georgia. Although there is an exception – the residents of the Sima de los Huesos parking lot in Spain did not suffer from stress. It seems that even then they comprehended the zen of siesta and fiesta!

– There are 32 individuals with teeth. There is hypoplasia, but many times less than in other people – both ancient hunters and townspeople of the 19th – 20th centuries. But, as we remember, they lived an average of 14 – 21 years. But happy!

Chamomile and Yarrow from the Neanderthal Pharmacy

Traditional medicine – not even hundreds, but tens of thousands of years! In the Shanidar cave on the territory of present-day Iraq, one of the burials was literally covered with flowers from medicinal plants – moreover, those that are still used to treat kidney diseases.

– Neanderthals 50 thousand years ago ate chamomile and yarrow, poplar bark – and this is actually aspirin, – Stanislav Drobyshevsky gives examples. Well, chamomile with yarrow is now sold in pharmacies. Aspirin, however, in tablets.

In general, we are not so different from primitive people, the anthropologist concludes:

– People are different, situations too. Some got sick and died, others were healthy and lived to old age. Someone was starving, and someone was chic. Ancient people were different from each other – like you and me.


Does drinking water help you lose weight?more)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button