Monday, January 30, 2006

Ancestral faces

Compared to their 14th-16th century ancestors, today's English have slightly different faces, reports the BBC, in one of those short pieces that raises more questions than it answers.

Modern people possess less prominent features but higher foreheads than our medieval ancestors.

Is it because back then they were rolling out of their pallets, downing a mug of "small beer" and chewing (with difficulty) some very hard bread before going out to work digging a field or sheering sheep, thus developing powerful jaws?

I find the "increase in mental capacity" argument to be a little weak, since I did not think there was a connection (within the normal human variation) between brain size and intelligence.

Medieval food was tougher and chewier, even for the rich. A recent article in Archaeology discussed the repair done to the Medici family crypt, which had been flooded in the 1966 overflow of the Arno River in Florence. A archaeologist who examined the teeth of Lorenzo de Medici, who must have lived as comfortable life as was possible in 15th-century Italy, said that from his dental wear, one would think he spent his life chewing sawdust.

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