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Our Medieval Ancestors Were More or Less Similar to Us Than Previously Thought

Englishmen during the time of Chaucer were not dwarfs but only short by two inches compared to todays average height, and same was the case with women more or less, a new study by researchers from the Bristol Royal Infirmary has revealed.

As part of their study, scientists researched 3000 skeletons from the medieval St. Peters Church in Barton upon Humber, North East Lincolnshire, and found that the average height of adult men from the 10th century through to the 19th was 5 feet 7 inches or 170 cms, just 2 inches below todays average.

Women averaged 5 feet 2 inches or 158cm - just over an inch shorter than today.

The researchers also studied the skeletons in an attempt to identify their sex, age and size. The bones were also analyzed for evidence of disease, injury, and diet.

Sebastian Payne, chief scientist for English Heritage, said evidence from the remains and those from other cemeteries showed the heights of adults remained "very stable" across the centuries.

"The idea that people were dwarflike is just not true. The perception comes partly from buildings having low doorways and partly from things like small bits of armour. The reason why you get small pieces of armour is they are the ones made for rich small kids, which didn't get heavily used and so survived. Small doorways are more to do with heating efficiency than anything else, said Payne.

However, the bones of children were found to be different from todays.

Ten-year-olds measured on average 18 cms or 7 inches shorter than today. Also puberty was delayed beyond 15 and children continued to grow later than today's teenagers.

Payne said the earliest bones were from the Battle of Hastings era.

One of them is a skeleton of a man aged around 50, probably born during the reign of King Canute (1016-1035). He lived during the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the subsequent "Harrying of th e North" by William the Conqueror, Payne said.

Though at 5 feet 2 inches, he was short by the standards of his day, but he had strong shoulder muscles, Payne added.

According to Payne, his remains survived because he was buried in an oak coffin in unusual ground conditions, which aided preservation.

Findings further revealed that as well as being of similar height, our predecessors suffered similar physical ailments to ours today, such as back and joint problems.

Only two skeletons had evidence of tuberculosis and there were just four cases of polio, Payne said.

English Heritage senior curator Kevin Booth said the two million pounds project provided a "snapshot of England over the last 1,000 years".

"This is a classic English parish church, it's a microcosm of what you get across the country," the Daily Mail quoted Booth as saying.


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