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Anglo-Norman
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PostSubject: Historical heights   Mon 09 Jul 2012, 19:32

Received wisdom has it that people were markedly shorter than they are today. The information given to me when I visited the replica of the Golden Hinde at Southwark the other day informed me that the average height of Elizabethans was 5'4". Some armours of the period do suggest smaller wearers, but others look like they'd comfortably fit a person of average modern size. I've also read in places that there wasn't that much difference. So what was the case? I'd guess it partly depended on social station - the higher up the scale, the better the diet, the bigger your build was likely to be.
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alantomes
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Mon 09 Jul 2012, 20:26

I'm not sure that is correct, and believe there were as many differences as there are today.

For instance Edward IV was about 6'4", but his brother Richard III was a lot smaller, although not a hunchback as Tudor propoganda suggests.

Regards.............Alan
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Mon 09 Jul 2012, 20:37

My immediate thought is Edward I, believed to be around 6ft and earning himself the name of Longshanks. Suggestive that he was excessively tall compared to most, of that time anyway. Whereas in many countries today 6ft would be an average height.

I have records of two ancestors from the early 1800s, one a sailor was just under 6ft and the other, an agricultural labourer was 5ft 7ins. Both wouldn't have had great diets but were reasonably tall.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 08:42

Mary, Queen of Scots was nearly six foot tall - almost like a 21st century model. Lord Darnley was very tall too: he and Mary must have *looked* pretty impressive together, even though they made such a mess of governing Scotland.

Lord Bothwell was much smaller - only about 5' 6'', but ferocious with it. A sort of 16th century Tom Cruise, I suppose.
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 09:10

@Temperance wrote:
Lord Bothwell was much smaller - only about 5' 6'', but ferocious with it. A sort of 16th century Tom Cruise, I suppose.

Haha!
There was definitely some striking variation. Charles I was 5'4" (even before his, er, shaving accident!), whereas his son Charles II was a strapping "two yards high" as the wanted posters put it. James II was also tall, whereas Henrietta Maria was apparently even smaller than her husband (but like Bothwell made up for it in personality). Obviously the Stuart height gene had skipped a couple of generations.

It's difficult to say, but I think on the whole in Britain, at least, whilst there was plenty of variation the average height has gone up a little, but perhaps not as much as is sometimes believed.

Oddly, I have read that finds with the Teracotta Army seem to suggest that the average height of Chinese men has fallen, although of course the Emperor may have surrounded himself with unusually tall individuals.
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 09:34

Tudor door lintels are low - and given that they wore hats too it seems they assumed most people were that height. In one of our howmes - an ancient farm house from year dot many guests ' hit the beams' and found the starirs a real trial.

I wonder though if it signifies much? Have just been staying in a very Raj club where the ceilings are 25' high - built for heat control rather than big heads - well possibly.

I did note that all the lintels on old cottages in an ancient lead mining area of Derbyshire were very low which indicates a probable link with environemental hazard....... and the place still has rather odd people. Not my observation but from several 'outsiders' who work there with many tales of unusual behaviour and outlook of locals who have been there for many generations.
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 13:46

This might be of interest. Skeletons recovered from the Towton battlefield with heights varying from 1.5 to 1.8 metres.

http://www.economist.com/node/17722650
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 14:11

@Priscilla wrote:
I wonder though if it signifies much? Have just been staying in a very Raj club where the ceilings are 25' high - built for heat control rather than big heads - well possibly.


My house has ceilings a good 2.7m/9ft or so high - and the doors are all about 2.2m/7' 6" high. But the house was built in the 19th century as a hunting lodge for a locally wealthy and rather nouveau-riche family. By contrast the neighbours' homes, all of whose houses (three within a few hundred metres of here) were built at about the same time and to much the same style between 1640 and 1680, and these all have much lower ceilings (at a bit over 2m/6ft 6ins) but still no-one ever really needs to stoop to pass under the ceiling beams. But also bear in mind the local catalan populace are quite short, often shorter than me and I stand only 1.7m/ 5' 6" tall.

Could not high ceilings be deliberately intended to be seen as a sign of wealth and affluence, while low ceilings - being here at least much better suited to keeping the place warm in the depths of winter - just more practical? And I am also very much away that if my ceilings were not so high I could actually fit another entire floor (ie four more rooms) in the house under the existing roof! In short a lower ceiling means lower walls and so inevitably is cheaper: both to build and to heat. So I do not think it can be easily related to population height.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 14:56

Just another thought... wasn't there a thread on the old BBC History Board about the length of mediaval/Tudor/Stuart beds as preserved in various houses and castles around Britain?

I'll see if I can dig it out.
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Nielsen
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 15:59

One source, though, would be the the old protocols where men were registered when enlisting in the Army or the Navy, that would probably give a fair guestimate of the height of ordinary men - even if not the women.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 16:29

Quote :
Based on a modest sample of skeletons from northern Europe, average heights fell from 173.4 centimeters in the early Middle Ages to a low of roughly 167 centimeters during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Taking the data at face value, this decline of approximately 6.4 centimeters substantially exceeds any prolonged downturns found during industrialization in several countries that have been studied. Significantly, recovery to levels achieved in the early Middle Ages was not attained until the early twentieth century. It is plausible to link the decline in average height to climate deterioration; growing inequality; urbanization and the expansion of trade and commerce, which facilitated the spread of diseases; fluctuations in population size that impinged on nutritional status; the global spread of diseases associated with European expansion and colonization; and conflicts or wars over state building or religion. Because it is reasonable to believe that greater exposure to pathogens accompanied urbanization and industrialization, and there is evidence of climate moderation, increasing efficiency in agriculture, and greater interregional and international trade in foodstuffs, it is plausible to link the reversal of the long–term height decline with dietary improvements.

This comes from a research paper, New Light on the "Dark Ages": The Remarkably Tall Stature of Northern European Men during the Medieval Era, Richard H. Steckel but I wonder quite how modest the sample was.

If I remember correctly, height also declined after the start of the neolithic when the variety of foods and its protein content declined with the increasing dependence on agriculture.

Of course height varies across populations, in Glasgow it used to be that a big proportion of the police were from the Highlands since so many of the local men were below the minimum height to join. I also came across this but I haven't verified it,
Quote :
As per the census conducted in 1909, the Scots were the tallest race in Europe. But due to the World War I, the average height of the men in Scotland fell by 9 inches in 1930.

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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 17:04

Thanks, Meles meles and Ferval - some really interesting statistics. So it seems humans shrunk, and are now growing again.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 17:17

@ferval wrote:
Quote :
As per the census conducted in 1909, the Scots were the tallest race in Europe. But due to the World War I, the average height of the men in Scotland fell by 9 inches in 1930.


Good grief you mean that Scottish men generally lost 9 inches in height between 1914 and 1930! Perhaps this is an example of Lamarkian inheritence: they passed on the trait of ducking to avoid bullets and shellfire to their offspring. Or is it because they DIDN'T duck and so lost thir heads, thereby shortening the average scotsman by about 9 inches in each case!

But nevertheless you'd think their wives might have noticed if they'd all shrunk by that much... 9 inches is an awful lot to lose in just one generation.


Last edited by Meles meles on Tue 10 Jul 2012, 21:26; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : spelling and punctuation.)
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 18:21

The Greek population have never been a particularly tall people, but the generation who were raised during WWII and the following Civil War are usually quite shorter than the previous and subsequent generations. Malutrition (at worst) and vitamin deficient diets (at best) have also left many with diseases like rickets and osteoporosis.

I don't think the food shortages and rationing in Scotland would have been quite so severe but it is understandable how a population would decrease in height due to war and political upheavals.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Tue 10 Jul 2012, 23:17

Anthropologists tend to tut-tut these days when discussion turns to "average height" in any historic era for anyone anywhere. They prefer terms like "genetic proclivity versus environmental restraints" etc, meaning that until you can definitely say that any one piece of evidence for an individual's height represents an aberration one should not even pretend to have discovered a "norm".

Ceiling heights as mentioned above are more contingent on the economic attributes of the builder/inhabitant. In the era of candlelight high ceilings were de rigeur for anyone burning several candles in a holder. In the era of gas it became even more necessary. In houses without a flue assembly (quite common in England right up to the 18th century) the intended source of heating was a factor in height of ceiling.

Beds are also a bad indication. Six foot Norwegians slept, like everyone else, in cots rarely longer than five feet. If they had to curl up while they slept, tough. That's the way communal sleeping areas were rigged out and the stua principle of sleeping where you're put existed right up to the 20th century in rural farms where stua were occupied seasonally by a variable workforce. Those lucky enough to sleep in a designated room solely for their own use could make a bed any length they liked.

Clothes are a good indication. Leather tunics which were highly tailored and were unearthed in Wood Quay in Dublin show that the population over a three hundred year period from circa 800 to 1100, a mixture of Norse and Gaelic inhabitants, showed as much variety as today and with the same patterns of height distribution amongst the community at any given time as today too.

Door heights are deceptive. An Irish poet writing in the 10th century complained about the false economy of designing low linteled doors to save money in towns then being run by Norsemen (thresholds were taxed according to the height and complexity of the door). He reckoned it was a tax designed by surgeons who charged a fortune for fixing cranial contusions. (Cinaed ua hArtachain - Gras na Lochlainnigh). A simplistic deduction of personal height based on these doorways would place the indigenous Irish about 4.5 feet tall.
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PostSubject: Re: Historical heights   Wed 11 Jul 2012, 05:49

Ceiling and doors are not a good indication of people's height in this part of the world either, where houses were built with the climate in mind and to allow the maximum amount of air flow. 10ft ceilings and high doorways were the norm in all houses, both rich and poor. They are a bugger to heat in winter though, and trying to get at cobwebs.
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