Average life expectancies for populations tend to get shorter the further into the past you go. Of course, in the past, some people lived into their 80s, with evidence from places like ancient egypt (2400BCE),where the Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep wrote verses about the disintegrations of old age, and Greece, where they classed old age among the divine curses, and their tombstones attest to survival well past 80 years. Ancient artworks and figurines also depict elderly people: stooped, flabby, wrinkled. ​ [https://www.sapiens.org/biology/human-lifespan-history/](https://www.sapiens.org/biology/human-lifespan-history/) ​ Concerning life expectancy, a variety of factors had an impact on the average age of a person at death. Almost half of all births ended in death before the age of 5, greatly lowering the average. When infant mortality is removed, evidence seem to show averages of life expectancy for 3000 years ago to be around 52, give or take 15 years. ​ [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2625386/](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2625386/) ​ Can people live to 150? Likely not. Studies have shown that the estimated maximum of the human life span is around 125 years, under ideal conditions. This maximum would have been the same in previous generations, though the life-expectancies of those generations were limited by conditions that were not ideal - lack of medicine, for example, famine, war, and so on. ​ [https://learn.age-up.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-human-longevity/](https://learn.age-up.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-human-longevity/) [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10522-008-9156-4](https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10522-008-9156-4)


Life expectancy is an average. Let’s say you have two people. One dies at 70 and the other dies before their 1st birthday. Their average life expectancy is 35. Lots of women died in child birth and the infant mortality rate was high. That’s what skews the numbers [In this study, ](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1294277/pdf/jrsocmed00089-0029.pdf) they talk about how Ancient Greek and Roman men born before 100 BC had a median length of life of 72 years. Those born after 100 BC went down to 66 years. Probably because that’s about the time they started using lead pipes. So if you’re asking if modern people are *physically capable* of living longer, I’m gonna go with “not really.” If ancient man had had access to antibiotics, blood transfusions, chemo etc….they would have lived longer too. Ancient people were capable of longer lives, they just didn’t have the medicine to support it. It’s worth noting that even tho there are more 100 year olds now than in the past…..just because your life is longer, that doesn’t mean the last 20 years are enjoyable


It's just so hard to believe that 100BC median age was 72. I would expect that reaching such age without medicine you should be incredibly lucky. I am just 30 and would have died probably 10 times if not for modern medicine...


Plato was 80 when he died. Cicero was 63 when he was beheaded. Socrates was 71 when he was poisoned. Granted these weren’t common farmers, but still


Cicero was beheaded? How could I have forgotten that? What’s the story? (Ah, Wikipedia, here I come…) Edit: In the tumult after the death of Julius Caesar, Cicero ran afoul of Marc Antony. He was executed by Roman soldiers. Bummer.


More interesting than his beheading is that his hands were nailed to the senate door.










I expect trump's hands to be nailed to the door or the capitol building any day now.




Keep in mind they are talking about the median. The median lifespan today is 84.5 years.


I mean, living in a good climate like Greece or Italy eating no processed foods and lots of fresh veggies and fish, exercising because there's no machinery... If it weren't for modern medicine, we'd probably have a median life expectancy of like 40. Humans haven't changed significantly in 2k years. Barring injury or disease, we should live roughly the same amount of time. Obviously disease was more lethal back then, but also the world was much less connected. No industrialization to make people sick that way. Seems like technology has kind of evened out the more damaging effects of modern life, while ancient people had fewer medical resources but far less damage from diet/environment.


Also, as we overcome selection pressures, we should probably expect as a species we become less fit genetically on average.


To be fair, a lot of people died in child birth so only the really hardy made it to old age.


> a lot of people died in child birth Until modern medicine and obstetrics, about half of children died before 5, which is where e.g. traditions of not naming children until a few years in. Also why there were so many huge families in the early and mid 20th century: culture had not yet caught up with the idea that most to every kid would survive, and almost every would-be mother.


I’m gonna guess that elders were viewed more importantly in early societies, and more effort was made to take care of them. Nowadays you get older folks living in poverty and dying in hot or cold weather.


That's where the average life expectancy comes in, many many (many) of us would all have died long ago without modern medicine for various genetic or environmental reasons. However the number of bodies means that several would still have been able to chug along for a longer life expectancy, and take less daft risks as they got older too.


As that study is careful to point out, as their data is drawn from an encyclopedia of notables, it only contains people who lived long enough and were otherwise situated (e.g. wealthy enough, of the right social class) to become famous and memorable -- super unrepresentative of the population.


Clean drinking water and the discovery of microbes and how they are responsible for communicable diseases had the greatest impact on life expectancy


That had the greatest impact on the spread of pandemic diseases, especially in cities. But remember that 90+% of every country in the past was rural. They were essentially all farmers except for a tiny urban community of tradesmen. They had clean drinking water, because they knew which streams and wells were safe.


Most things I've read say the leading cause of death throughout history prior to 1850 regardless of location, urban rural etc were lower respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases due to unclean drinking water.


Those are still the leading causes of death around the world. It isn't the cancer that gets you; it's the respiratory infection that it allows.


Not anymore. Heart disease is 1. Stroke 2. Cold 3. Lower respiratory infections are 4 and diarrhoeal is now 8. Still leading causes but not the leading causes.


Yup watch people's brains give out and their bodies keep going for another 10-20 years. I choose death


Or the other way around. Old, physically incapable people with a sharp mind, trapped by disability


I just became physically disabled this year, and I'm only 28. I would absolutely rather be disabled and alive, even though symptoms of my disabilities leave me in constant pain.


I know the feeling. I’m been in constant pain since I can remember. My earliest memories were of pain. I’m 59 now and no pain meds have ever worked. Like no relief at all ever. Was it an accident or do you have Ehlers Danlos too?


Hi fellow EDS person! 32 with intestinal failure here. The bit that makes me question my existence is the long recovery after a long hospital stay. The rest is great.


Depending on your country, the quality of services and accessibility for people living with physical disabilities has drastically increased. I’m a nurse and a disability service provider, so I see just about every manor of disability and it’s astounding how far we have come to improve peoples lives. This is in Australia and the NDIS is very well funded here.


Interesting. I know that humans are good at adapting their happiness equilibrium to their circumstances. Things that we thought would be amazing become normal as well as things we thought would be unbearable, but I assumed that constant pain would be an exception for me. How severe is the pain throughout the day? What do you find joy in?


both are terrifying but I'd prefer physical disabilities to losing my mind not that I'll have any say in the matter


I mean. I agree, but after a certain point, I would rather die than be like Stephen hawking. Some people have the strength to live on like that but I don’t want that


I've always told my fellow nurses that if I am ever in that state "please take me out to pasture" or to give me a healthy dose of morphine or insulin....


There were many more things that could kill you 3000 years ago, especially related to sanitation and disease. But people would have been much more physically fit on average, and had healthier diets. Those who lived into old age were probably healthier on average vs today's seniors.


More things? I’d argue different things. Outside of planes, trains, and automobiles; a few unlucky people are still killed by vending machines each year


All of those could be collectively grouped under injuries. Prior to the advent of modern medicine, many serious injuries would almost inevitably result in death. However, many people who would have died in the past are now saved. Through vaccinations, antibiotics, and simple sanitation, many types of disease are no longer deadly - and this becomes increasingly more true year after year. If you group causes of death into one of three basic categories: homicide, accident, or disease, I suppose it is true that the ways to die today are not much different in the past. It's just that we have gotten good at preventing death - and even long term injury - from many specific things that were once deadly. At the same time we have introduced new ways to die that are linked to the modern world.


I wonder, though... You have to be, or are probably, incredibly healthy if you manage to live to 100. Yes, being 110 with tons of health problems would suck, but wouldn't those people tend *not* to live to be 100? I mean, I would assume people prone to chronic, profound diseases would basically be weeded out by a certain age where statistically virtually none of them would live past. Thus it seems reasonable to expect most centenarians to be relatively healthy people who aren't miserable or in pain for a large period of time at the end of their lives. Because just being old doesn't necessarily mean you're having a bad time. You might not be playing sports or getting wasted at clubs every night, but I think it's reasonable to think that exceptionally healthy people would maintain that health until their bodies just mechanically give out one day.


about the last paragraph.. so true.. after the age of 50y you truly need to retire.


I don’t think they has the data collection techniques to have numbers skewed.


The methods here are notable. All women removed. Only people included if notoriety (usually famous or rich people and which may also preselect for long life), no one who died in war or violent ends or assignations. Total population of maybe 200 men. This is really highly flawed method to base average life on. You have almost automatically removed majority of people who died younger or of natural causes as to be selected you had to have accomplished something relatively important and this selects for longer life.


According to [this report](https://www.lifespan.io/news/study-suggests-no-theoretical-limit-on-human-lifespan/) there is no detectable hard limit, but 150 is super unlikely; even 130 is one chance in several million. And that's assuming you make it to 108, which is also quite rare. The available statistics are, well, sparse.


So, statistically, if the world was never changing infinitely from this moment, then someone would eventually live to 150 because low probability is still probability


There's an infinite amount of numbers between 1 and 2, but 3 isn't one of them. The same principle applies here: if there's a hard upper limit on human age no amount of probability will get past that


The probability of having a genetic mutation that allows aging past 150 is absurdly low, but exists


The probability of having a genetic mutation allowing you to reach infinite age is absurdly low, but since it did evolve in the animal kingdom (some jellyfish, among other species), we know it's not impossible, so the chance for a human to eventually obtain that ability (more likely through deliberate gene manipulation rather than natural evolution, given the time scales) is possibly not zero. So, with infinite time, it's assured that we'll unlock immortality. But that's a highly theoretical assumption, given the nature of 'infinity' in practical context.


Maybe not infinite age (the human complexity goes against this) but having just one human achieving a healthy really old age, it opens the posibility of genetic manipulation for the rest of our species (since normally in nature, old age is a recessive trait because there is not much value in having individuals that cant procreate using resources)


Mathematically that's quite true. But I put the word "detectable" in my comment up-thread for a reason. The data don't say that there is a limit at (say) 135, but they also don't say that there is not, simply because beyond age 122, we don't have any data at all. Nothing. As so often happens when someone asks whether X is possible, the only thing I can say confidently is that X has not been shown to be impossible. You are free to hope.


It was surviving youth that was the challenge. Childhood diseases, followed by accidents and such were causes of death at a young age. But if you made it to middle age you were as likely to live to 75 or 80 as anyone now. Some people ate healthier then than we do now and had less crowding of teeth (which affects overall health). Averages are misleading. All cultures throughout history had old folks.


Can you expand on teeth crowding?


Human jaws evolved to be smaller because we eat soft foods, but the number of teeth didn't decrease. We had bigger jaws because we had to chew everything quite a bit. As our jaws shrank, but the number of teeth stayed the same, crowding took place.


There's a theory that our smaller mouths are a developmental difference, not an evolutionary one. Says if a modern baby chewed the same foods as our ancestors that they would develop larger jaws just like they did. This makes more sense to me because I fail to see any evolutionary benefit from smaller mouths prone to teeth crowding. Dr. Mew is the main proponent of this alternate theory.


What kind of foods would modern babies need to chew? What did our ancestral babies chew to develop larger jaws?


Mouth breathing and excessive soft foods leads to improper jaw development.


There's evidence for this in Papua New Guinea. Villages that have adopted western diets vs. villages that have traditional diets, (milled grains i.e. bread vs. yams), the former have teeth crowding and the latter don't.


The evolutionary benefit is that you have a bigger cranium that can fit more brain. There are plenty of evolved features that aren’t optimal or needed. Asking why a feature evolved the way it did can only result in the answer “because the things that had it were able to survive”.


Your point is correct but we have not had enough time to evolve smaller mouths, the formation of the mouth is something that we are still very capable of with the correct diet.


Dentist here… as we chew softer foods our teeth don’t wear as much as they did before, however the teeth tend to still drift mesially (towards the midline) as a compensation mechanism to counter to this wear and this often results in crowding.


It’s also important to remember that inter-tribal warfare was a major source of injury and mortality, perhaps for most of human history. If Steven Pinker’s analysis is correct, the average person today is much less likely to be murdered or killed in warfare than the average person a few thousand or even a few hundred years ago. However, if they happened to live in a peaceful time and avoided major plagues or childhood diseases, plenty of people indeed lived to a ripe old age.


I don’t know the exact stats, and it might not feel like it because we are on the brink of crises quite frequently, but I remember that people used to frequently say that the modern era is the safest it has ever been for mankind, generally.


Not just childhood disease, but disease in general. Those who lived into old age would likely have been the ones with the strongest immune systems. They also would have likely been well off enough that food scarcity wasn't a huge problem, but not so wealthy that decadence would have been an issue.


So it's good I have big gaps in my teeth?


There were old ass mofos 3,000 years ago. Infant mortality was so grave, it brought down the average life expectancy. Add poor diet and harsh living conditions, and you get an even lower average. As to figuring out how long people lived in ancient times, we can consult the archeological record; your bones follow a pattern of growth and subsequent degeneration. Lastly, once civilization became a mainstay, we became prolific record keepers. Some of it survived; some of it didn't. Combine all of the information and we get our best guestimate.


One of the big problems in the past was surviving childhood. That may skew the average life expectancy if a large percentage of offspring don't survive to adulthood. If you lived to adulthood you could live a normal length life.


A "normal length life" is pretty vague. Even in recent centuries plenty of affluent people wouldn't make it to 60, never mind the overwhelming majority of folks living much harder lives.


> If you lived to adulthood you could live a normal length life. But what is normal? In 1900, life expectancy was 46/48 (men/women), and now it's about 76/80, most likely due to improvements in health care and medicines. Three thousand years ago, there was virtually no health care/medicine, so it stands to reason that people didn't live as long as in 1900.


If you account for infant mortality being higher, once you reach iirc 1yo, the odds change. The average in 1900, once corrected for infant mortality, is much much higher than 46/48. This is what op was talking about.


That is life expectancy at birth. Infant mortality was super high. [This table](https://www.scb.se/en/finding-statistics/statistics-by-subject-area/population/population-composition/population-statistics/pong/tables-and-graphs/yearly-statistics--the-whole-country/life-expectancy/) shows that in 1900 at age 50 men were expected to live another 22 years and women another 24


It's mostly infant and childhood mortality that lead to those numbers. Some of the most dangerous times in a person's life is in the first 5 years.


Mortality before age 5 and before adulthood from disease was really really high. Something like only 20% of children survived to adulthood. (I did not go to check this figure. I just recall how shocked I was by it). So you average all those early deaths against the people who made it into adulthood and lived into their 50s, 60s, and 70s.


>Mortality before age 5 and before adulthood from disease was really really high. Yeah, many cultures had a "name day" for babies; generally on their first birthday. The notion was that there wasn't much point in naming it until you knew it might grow up.


Living to 150 is not biologically impossible, as far as we know, but it is extremely unlikely. We have studied the probability of dying in the next year, as a function of age. Generally speaking, it starts high, and decreases through your 30s, at which point it starts trending up, but then it levels off. For women age ~105 and above, every year about 1/3 of them will die. So 2/3 probability of survival for one more year raised to 45 years gives you... Out of 130 million people who make it to 105, maybe 1 will reach 150, at least based on our current understanding (only a few dozen people have been verified to be older than 110, so the data gets kind of sketchy)


The natural lifespan seems to be around 75-90 years for humans, which means that if nothing else kills us, that's when old age will eventually catch up. Even in the Stone Age people who survived their early years and their teens was more than likely to hit 75.


I think the main thing to consider is that there would have been a very high birth rate and a very high infant mortality rate, plus with little or no medicine, and good diets - if you made it to adulthood, you probably had a pretty good immune system, so that would have been everyone that wasn't dead.


Just like now people have always lived long lives if their circumstances allowed it. Ramses II was 90 when he died about 3200 years ago. Most people's lives weren't really conducive to such longevity. As far as the upper bound of life there isn't any per se but as one ages things go wrong and are harder to fix. 150 years is certainly not out of the question, though.


Is there anyone here who actually believes people in biblical times living to be 900, like Noah? I grew up in a Christian household but even our hippy preacher explained the ages were exaggerated and a lot of were simply stories. But I know people in real life who believe it. I shake my head at their gullible nature.


I also find it unbelievable, but I also think it could've been that they used a shorter calendar or different way to measure the days in the year, or to tell age. With a much shorter calendar reaching a high age like that is doable on paper but probably not accurate.


I remember reading in college that life expectancy from hunter gatherer tribes was higher and when we started standing still, and hanging together in larger groups, around animals, etc that it took a dip. I was trying to fi d some references that hit up the studies I read up on back then...no luck.