Monday, March 11, 2013

A Thought for Our Predecessors' Ignorance

From a press-release from “Eurekalert” HERE 
“Mummy CT scans show preindustrial hunter gatherers had clogged arteries”
“The leading cause of death in the developed world also afflicted our early ancestors, indicating there's more to it than modern lifestyles
Like nearly 4.6 million Americans, ancient hunter-gatherers also suffered from clogged arteries, revealing that the plaque build-up causing blood clots, heart attacks and strokes is not just a result of fatty diets or couch potato habits, according to new research in the journal The Lancet.
The researchers performed CT scans of 137 mummies from across four continents and found artery plaque in every single population studied, from preagricultual hunter-gatherers in the Aleutian Islands to the ancient Puebloans of southwestern United States.
Their findings provide an important twist to our understanding of atherosclerotic vascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the developed world: while modern lifestyles can accelerate the development of plaque on our arteries, the prevalence of the disease across human history shows it may have a more basic connection to inflammation and aging.
"This is not a disease only of modern circumstance but a basic feature of human aging in all populations," said Caleb Finch, USC University Professor, ARCO/ Kieschnick Professor of Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, and a senior author of the study. "Turns out even a Bronze Age guy from 5,000 years ago had calcified, carotid arteries," Finch said, referring to Otzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who lived around 3200 BCE and was discovered frozen in a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991.”
There are those who bewail their lives in historically high per capita income economies and desperately wish they could transform society to their images of whatever utopian fantasies they have created from their convictions. I sometimes comment on representative examples of this genre, usually when they blame their image of what Adam Smith is alleged to have written and thereby caused the problems.  Noticeably few, if any, detractors of high-income societies move from the horrors of their high-living standards to existing low per capita income societies.
Caleb Finch shows that some fairly common health problems of people in the richer countries were prevalent in the distant past.  The difference is that modern knowledge is able to identify the problem of what causes early deaths from heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke (for which I for one am grateful).  This knowledge was denied to our hunter-gatherer predecessors. Many others died from malnutrition, living on the equivalent of under $1 day for long periods, and from natural calamities. Some hunter-gatherers enjoyed locally provided livings at risk of wandering others of violent dispositions.   
Deaths of individuals from non-apparent causes were likely to have been ‘explained’ by imagination emanating from whoever had a degree of articulate ignorance to assert what Smith labeled the “pusillanimous superstition that supplied the place of philosophy" (see Smith “History of Astronomy”).


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