THE GREAT EQUALIZER
Sometimes size is everything. If say, you lived hundreds or thousands of years ago and you were a large muscular man, big and loud like many of the Germanic and Celtic rulers, chances were that you could probably get pretty much what you wanted simply by intimidating those around you. But brute force only really begins to make sense if you are large and intelligent. The brightest bulb in the box. With a lot of watts. That puts you at the top of the food chain, and that, with some notable exceptions, is what has molded human history for thousands of years. Those rulers who were smaller in size but clever and intelligent always made sure that they had a contingent of large muscular individuals who certainly were not the brightest bulbs but whose loyalty was reliable enough to enforce their will. Size and intelligence brought power, wealth and a better standard of living than the masses could have, those poor souls who were coerced into obedience and servitude. Of course, this is an over-generalization, and as the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution took hold and technology began to dictate who held the power, the game began changing.
I mention all this because the grave I photographed earlier today contained a skeleton that was somewhat larger than those that we have been unearthing and that always leads me to thinking that size in earlier times held a distinct advantage. In a previous post I wrote about these graves, I talked about how they were the burials of the upper classes, the rich and powerful, and who, because of their position in society, enjoyed a better quality of life, better nourishment and, for what it was worth back then, no doubt better health care and hygiene. This could also contribute to longer life spans.
The preliminary assumption is that this grave, like the others, dates to the Twelfth Century. This big boned male was buried in a wooden coffin, perhaps somewhat larger than usual. Traces of the rotted wood can be seen outlining the skeleton above the skull and along the right hand side of the grave. Once I had completed the photographic documentation, I took a foldable two meter Zollstock (yardstick), climbed down into the pit and measured the length of the skeleton. Now, although it wouldn’t seem like it, it is difficult to accurately determine how tall an individual really was when alive just by measuring the prone skeleton. There are many points, seen from an anthropological perspective, that have to be taken into consideration. But that aside, just a rough measurement of this man’s height put him somewhere between 1,86 and 1,90 meters tall (ca. 6,1 and 6,3 feet). This seems to be a rather normal size for our day and age, but he probably would have towered over many of the people around him during his lifetime. And he had enough clout and prestige to have been buried in the interior of an important church. One can not help wondering, who he was, what he was called and what kind of life he lived. Those, unfortunately, are questions we probably won’t find the answers to.
Things haven’t changed much over the centuries. Being rich and powerful may no longer require being big and strong, but the perks and privileges have remained pretty much the same. Because of vast improvements in health care and nourishment, we as a species have grown larger on the average than our ancestors, but those who lord over the rest of us still see to it that we never forget that they are more important and more deserving of special treatment, even in death, conveniently forgetting the one final truth. Being big and strong and powerful means nothing once the worms have their turn. Death was, is and always will be the great equalizer…
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