Heights across the Last 2,000 Years in England

Galofré-Vilà, Gregori; Hinde, Andrew and Guntupalli, Aravinda Meera (2018). Heights across the Last 2,000 Years in England. In: Hanes, Christopher and Wolcott, Susan eds. Research in Economic History. Research in Economic History, 34. Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 67–98.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/S0363-326820180000034003

Abstract

This chapter uses a dataset of heights calculated from the femurs of skeletal remains to explore the development of stature in England across the last two millennia. We find that heights increased during the Roman period and then steadily fell during the “Dark Ages” in the early medieval period. At the turn of the first millennium, heights grew rapidly, but after 1200 they started to decline coinciding with the agricultural depression, the Great Famine, and the Black Death. Then they recovered to reach a plateau which they maintained for almost 300 years, before falling on the eve of industrialization. The data show that average heights in England in the early nineteenth century were comparable to those in Roman times, and that average heights reported between 1400 and 1700 were similar to those of the twentieth century. This chapter also discusses the association of heights across time with some potential determinants and correlates (real wages, inequality, food supply, climate change, and expectation of life), showing that in the long run heights change with these variables, and that in certain periods, notably the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the associations are observable over the shorter run as well. We also examine potential biases surrounding the use of skeletal remains.

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