When Life Was Short

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When Life Was Short

Life for man of the Old Stone Age was extremely harsh and precarious. Recently a scientific examination was made of nearly two hundred Old Stone Age individuals whose age at the time of death could be determined. It was found that 55 percent of the Neanderthals and 34 percent of the Cro—Magnons died before reaching age twenty. Most of the remainder of those examined died between the ages of twenty and thirty, with fewer than 5 percent living beyond their fortieth birthdays and three individuals reaching the ripe old age of fifty. Life for the female must have been exceptionally harsh, for practically all who survived beyond age forty were men.

The life span of Australopithecus, who lived about two million years before Neanderthal man, was even shorter. A physiological potential of up to sixty years has been projected for the australopithecine, but few lived beyond their teens. Their mean life span of under twenty years testifies explicitly to the hazards of early hominid existence.

Scientists believe Australopithecus must have lived in rather cohesive family groups. Evidence is indirect, but considering that most of these early humans died during their teens, many of them certainly would have, at this age, left dependent children. Since this species of man survived for millions of years, the new orphans would have been reared by others, doubtless close relatives in the family group.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth