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Q: 24 hours ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   10 Comments )
Subject: 24 hours
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 05 Apr 2003 12:31 PST
Expires: 05 May 2003 13:31 PDT
Question ID: 186507
This is a bit larger project. I am interested in understanding what a
24 hour day might have looked like over the ages. 24 hours 40 000
years ago 20 000, 10 000, 5 000, 2 500, 2 000, 1 500, 1 000, 750 ,500,
400, 300, 200, 100, 80 , 60, 40, 20, 10, yers ago. Basicaly the
evolution of activity during one day and one night. The years of
course are approximate. Mostly western culture, but others might ad
somthing. Primarily focus on making a living and living conditions
including diseases and other dangers. If this is too complex a
question, I'll be glad to cut it down in smaler chunks.

Request for Question Clarification by missy-ga on 05 Apr 2003 12:45 PST
Hi qpet!

What a fascinating idea!  Let me make sure I understand this correctly
- you're basically looking for "A Day In The Life" sort of
information.  Perhaps like:

"April 4th, 2003

7AM - Alarm clock sounds.
7:01AM - Throw alarm clock across room
8AM - Get out of bed to sound of laughing children
8:01AM - Stumble to kitchen for coffee"

...etc.?  Obviously not *exactly* those activities, but a similar


Clarification of Question by qpet-ga on 05 Apr 2003 14:26 PST
Hi missy, yes somewhat like that. I want to get a feel for the life
humans lived. This could include even their concerns and problems. For
example 10 000 humans didn't have any hot showers...When did humans
use tooth brushes? When did the first bathrooms appear... how many
cloth did a human own 5000 years ago. I am certain that there is not
solid evidence of the lifestyle of our early ancestors, but maybe
there are some anthropologists who came up with educated geusses,
certainly there is plenty of information on the more recent times.
Good luck,

Request for Question Clarification by missy-ga on 05 Apr 2003 15:45 PST
Hi qpet!

Terrific!  That's a great format to work with, I'm really looking
forward to digging into this (and my son is bouncing behind me telling
me that he wants to help!).

This will probably take some time to properly prepare, but I'm
investigating now.  It looks like a lot of fun!


Request for Question Clarification by missy-ga on 06 Apr 2003 15:41 PDT
Hello qpet!

Just an update:  I'm about halfway through, and expect to be finished
sometime tomorrow afternoon!

Subject: Re: 24 hours
Answered By: missy-ga on 07 Apr 2003 23:24 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello qpet,

What an informative and entertaining project this has turned out to
be!  As you can well imagine, the scope of the source material
available for this is quite vast, so I’ve culled explanatory sources
for each time period you’ve specified.

I’ve treated each time period as a separate answer and have used
various styles for each, alternating between "journal entries",
summarizations and "DayRunner" styles - journal entries seemed more
appropriate for some time periods, based on the amount of information
available.  (I also felt that since the topic is quite long, you’d be
rather bored if I stuck to one style throughout.)

In some instances, where it is apparent from source material that
daily life had not changed much over the course of several hundred or
even a thousand years, I’ve combined the time periods. I’ve included
the relevant sources at the end of each section.  If you should find
that any style used doesn’t suit your taste, simply ask for a
re-write.  I’ll be happy to oblige.

40,000 years ago
Somewhere in what is now called Europe

Diary of a Cro-Magnon man

Dear Diary,

I rose shortly before the sun today to prepare for the hunt.  It was
very cool last night, still a little wintery, so I had to push several
furs off to get up.  Quietly, so as not to wake the rest of the tribe,
I pulled my fur raiments over my head, slipped into my tanned hide and
fur foot coverings, and slipped out of the cave into the still morning
air.  It’s still too chilly to wear the woven material the women have
been sewing garments from, even though the woven material is more
comfortable and smells better.

My brother waits for me by a small fire.  He has brought water from
the stream to drink and there is dried meat and freshly caught fish
for breakfast.  I am famished, and eat quickly.  My brother tells me
he has seen the large, fluffy creature again - a "bear", he calls it. 
We have seen this creature attack the Horned Ones and eat them.

He is very frightening, this "bear", so we must be extra vigilant. 
This creature may also hunt our own young.  I do not know, I’ve only
recently seen it about.  He seems to fear the fire, I will remind my
wife to keep it burning.  Perhaps we will eventually capture one of
these ourselves - his fur appears thick and warm, and he is very
large.  He would yield enough meat for the entire tribe!

My brother has been up for quite some time, creating our spear heads
from stone.  He is adept at chipping bits of stone away with a larger
stone to create sharp edges - he has made about a dozen new spearheads
for us just this morning!  I help him fasten these to sturdy shafts
with lengths of sinew, then follow him into the woods as the sun
rises.  It is our task today to hunt a Horned One to feed the tribe.

We conceal ourselves silently in the brush, waiting for one of the
many Horned Ones that live in the woods to come past.  They are
interesting creatures - nimble and graceful, a rich brown color, with
large, liquid eyes.  The younglings have white spots on their backs
that seem to vanish as they grow older.  They are plentiful and keep
our tribe well fed and warmly clothed.  Presently, my brother spots a
large male ambling calmly along.  He seems to be headed for the
stream, so we follow silently, and dash ahead quickly and quietly as
we are able.

My brother and I take up positions on either side of the animal,
darting quietly forward, and we both strike at the same time. 
Success!  The animal is quickly felled, and my brother and I each
grasp a pair of legs and begin to drag him home.  He is very heavy and
the work is tiring, but we have a responsibility to the tribe to bring
meat, so we continue in spite of our weariness and ease our growing
hunger with berries and leaves along the way.

When we return to the tribe just before dusk, the women are out with
the children.  Some are weaving plants into baskets to hold berries,
nuts, and tools.  Others are working with sharpened stones to carve
shells and bits of tusk for adornments.  An elder is seated near the
fire, carefully grinding herbs for medicines - some in the tribe
occasionally fall ill, and the elders have found plants that help ease
their discomfort.  They spend a considerable amount of time searching
for these plants, and have found that they work just as well when
dried, which means we will have medicine during the winter months as

The children run in happy circles, their mothers ever mindful of them,
and raise a great cry when they see us approach.  They rush to us, all
wanting to inspect our catch, all wanting to touch the fur.  A small
one cries out that the Horned One is still warm and jumps back in

It falls to us to skin and clean the Horned One.  We attack the task
quickly, removing the entrails and handing the hide off to the women
to be cleaned and tanned.  It will serve us well for sleeping furs or
raiments - which will depend on what we are in need of.

Other women come to take portions of the meat away to prepare for
drying.  Although the Horned Ones do not leave or hide in the winter
months, they are less easy to hunt.  We have no cover in those months,
and often depend on the stores of dried food we have built up to
survive the harsh winter.  A little of each kill is set aside for

There is still much meat left, and my brother and I cut it into
portions for cooking.  The heads of each family within the tribe come
for their share, and head off to begin preparing the evening meal. 
Each will roast his share of meat, and we will gather together to eat.
 The young ones cry out to hear the tale of the hunt, and my brother
obliges them, regaling them in great detail with the story of our
day’s task.  The little ones are wide eyed and fascinated - I must
interrupt my brother several times as he tries to insert a "bear"
sighting into the story.  We didn’t see a bear on the hunt!

He motions for me to be silent, and winks at the young ones who are
watching him.  He’s quite a story teller!  I am not given to such
antics, however.  I prefer to draw.  I retire to the cave, where many
of our tribe have already slipped into their sleeping furs - they are
the ones charged with the hunt tomorrow, so they are sleeping early. 
Along one side, I have a small cache of stones and minerals, a few
pigments.  I take these to the Secret Place, well to the back of the
cave, and through a treacherous tunnel.  On a wall, I carefully sketch
out the details of our hunt with my fingers, showing my brother and me
with our spears at the moment we fell upon the Horned One.  The Horned
One is somewhat difficult to draw, but I am satisfied with my work and
color him in.

It is late and I am tired.  More and more of the tribe come into the
cave to sleep.  My wife and children have already nestled into their
furs, spent from the day’s chores.  I clean my hands on my garments,
creep back through the tunnel, and crawl under my sleeping furs.  It
has been a very good day, and I look forward to my rest.


An Abbreviated Chart of Hominid and Human Evolution

Human Evolution Activity

Genetic study roots humans in Africa	

'Modern' Behavior Began 40,000 Years Ago In Africa, Evidence Suggests
1998-07-07 - University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign

Humans Fully Modern Earlier than Thought
By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Rules of the Game - Did Early Interest in Eating Meat Spur Organized
By Lee Dye Special to

The Evolution of Bears

Did Early Humans Mate with the Locals?
University of Utah 24-Dec-02

Cro-Magnon Man
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 
Columbia University Press 2000
Page 12090

Page 31-36


20,000 years ago
Ice Age
North America

Scientists believe that early humans crossed the Bering Straits into
what is now called Alaska about 20,000 years ago.  Somewhat taller and
more robust than their earlier counterparts, these humans had to
concern themselves with keeping warm.  They built sturdy huts (from
animal hides wrapped around strong posts, bound together with sinew)
with central hearths for winter quarters, made innovations in
stitching their garments (bone needles with eyes in them, for
instance) from animal skin and developed new methods of weaving cloth
and better methods of tanning skins.  In the summer, they followed the
herds and lived in easily moved tents.

As with their predecessors, the daily life of the Ice Age human
centered primarily around the hunt.  Game was plentiful and varied -
large game birds, mammoths, caribou and bison flourished.  It was at
about this time that the bow and arrow was developed, allowing for
greater flexibility in the hunt.

A more socialized tribal structure was developing.  Art and story
telling are said to have flourished, and items such as beads, shells
and small carvings were used to barter for items, much in the manner
of modern currency.  Based on some artifacts found, it seems religion
also began to develop - carved female figurines known as "Venus
figures" hint at Earth or Goddess worship.

The Ice Age human’s day began before sun-up.  As with his
predecessors, he shared hunting responsibilities with others of his
tribe.  The few not out hunting for the day would remain behind to
help protect the women and children from predators (bears and
saber-toothed cats chief among them), to tan hides, cure meat, and
assist in repairing huts.  Others were responsible for making tools,
spears, bows and arrows.

While the men were out hunting, women foraged for wild grains (such as
wheat and barley), root vegetables (such as yams and wild potatoes)
and assorted berries and nuts.  They were also responsible for
catching small animals (squirrels and hares) to help supplement the
diet of the tribe.  Like the men, they divided the labor - some women
would forage, others would see to catching small prey, others would
remain behind to mind the children and dogs (who were becoming
domesticated around this time), grind flour for unleavened bread,
cook, weave cloth from plants such as nettles, and sew garments and
boots.  Evidence indicates that nets and ropes were also made, to aid
in the capture of small prey and in the catching of fish in coastal

Tasks alternated daily to help provide a fair division of labor.

The hunters typically returned shortly before sundown with their
catches, which were immediately skinned and cleaned, and portioned out
for curing or cooking.    Meals were communal, and consisted of that
day’s kill, as well as the nuts, fruits and vegetables gathered that

In the evenings, those skilled at carving would take up their tools to
create beads, decorative carvings, and figurines.  Evidence points to
some worship rituals that included the entire tribe, perhaps a
collective giving of thanks.  Most members of the tribe retired to
sleep shortly after sundown, exhausted by the day’s strenuous
activity.  Bedding consisted of furs and skins, and exhibits at
Chicago’s Field Museum indicate that sleeping arrangements began
including raised beds fashioned from wood and rope at about this time.


Furs for Evening, but Cloth Was the Stone Age Standby
December 14, 1999
NY Times

"Jurassic Park," eat your heart out
By Katharine Mieszkowski

History of Evolution

Venus Figurines

Nature Notes by Mel Moss

Timeline of dietary shifts in the human line of evolution

Other sources:  
Notes and photographs from several visits to Chicago’s Field Museum

Institute for Ice Age Studies

Reflections on the Origins of Scavenging and Hunting in Early Hominids


10,000 years ago


Name:  Isam
Address:  Large Mud Hut Near The River
Occupation:  Farmer


 Cultivation of wheat, barley, flax, and peas.
 domestication of sheep, cows and goats
 tanning of leather
 developed method of irrigation to maintain crops

Daily responsibilities:

 Feed livestock at daybreak.
 retrieve milk from cows and goats
 carry milk to wife for cheese making
 check crops for weeds, pulling any I find
 turn livestock out to graze
 retrieve water from the river, using a goat to carry buckets
 carefully water crops
 harvest as necessary
 hand cultivate plots for re-planting
 round up livestock before dusk, return them to their enclosure

Weekly responsibilities:

 slaughter goat, sheep or cow for meat 
 stretch hides for tanning
 make repairs on mud hut as necessary

Other activities:

When I am not working in my fields or trying to design a better
irrigation system, I assist my neighbors with their livestock and
crops.  We trade often with each other - barley for wheat, mutton for
beef, flaxen cloth for woven woolens, milk for cheese.

My wife is a skilled weaver and cheesemaker - she is known throughout
the region for her finely woven flaxen linens and her rich and
perfectly cured cheeses.  She works daily to maintain our household,
filling the air with the scent of her rich lamb stews and unleavened
bread, and working to spin yarn, weave fabric, and sew comfortable
clothing for us.  Our daughter assists her in these daily tasks. 
(Until his death recently from a mysterious fever, our son helped to
tend the sheep.  He fell ill shortly after several sheep had died, but
the village healer could not help him.  He suspected the boy may have
been made ill by the sheep!)

It is my goal to improve irrigation and harvest methods, as well as
ease the burden of working the soil, so that my entire day is not
spent in the fields.  I would like to spend a bit more time learning
to fashion clay pots in which to store our grains, but this requires
time and I am very tired at the end of the day.


Mesopotamia - 8000 - 2000 BC

Mesopotamia: The Fertile Crescent

For A Change

Fertile Crescent Civilizations

Ararat, the Cradle of Civilization?


5000 years ago
About 3000 BC

Along the banks of the Nile, in what was called the "kemet" (the Black
Land), one could expect to find houses built from adobe - bricks
fashioned from mud and dried in the sun.  Homes were typically divided
into a reception area, a hall for entertaining guests, and private
family quarters, and featured simple mud benches and rough wood or
stone tables.

Although women were considered equal to men in Egyptian society (they
were permitted to own land, hold jobs, and even represented themselves
in court), the division of household responsibilities still fell
largely along gender lines.  In working class families, it was
expected that the men hunt, work the fields, or serve as craftsmen,
while the women remained at home to care for the daily needs of the
children and the household.

Egyptians of this time are concerned with cleanliness.  Most bathe
daily in the river, or from basins in their homes.  Wealthy families
are bathed by servants, who pour water over their masters from large
jugs - precursors to modern day showers.  The toothbrush has come into
existence during this time as well - a stick with a frayed end,
moistened and used to scrub the teeth daily.  The homes of the wealthy
have toilets - fairly simple stone or wooden seats with keyhole shaped
openings over a tray or pit of sand.  Common folk dispose of their
sewage in pits outside, in the river, or in the streets.

Unfortunately, the practice of dumping sewage in the streets or in the
river ensures that disease is common.  Infections caused by sewage
borne parasites is commonplace, as are diseases carried by insects. 
Some 700 herbal prescriptions are available from physicians of the
time to treat various illnesses, and physicians maintain a high degree
of specialization.

Worship of various gods is very much a part of Egyptian daily life. 
Many begin and end their day with prayers to a given deity, some even
leave notes on the tombs of ancestors, asking for intercession.

Clothing is simple and plentiful, usually made from linen woven by the
women.  Sandals are made from leather and river rushes.  Cosmetics are
prevalent, both for aesthetic value and for the protection they
offered from disease carrying insects and the harsh, dry air.

The diet of this period is quite varied.  By this time, closed ovens
have been developed, leading to better bread baking.  Bread baking is
considered a sacred art, symbolic of giving life, and bakers are held
in high regard.  Beer is the most popular beverage, having also been
developed during this period.  Meals consist mostly of bread and
varying fruits and vegetables (fava beans, lentils, peas, lettuces,
cucumbers, pomegranates, leeks, dates, radishes), as well as honey,
sesame seeds and the occasional bit of roasted game (pigeon or hare). 
Dishes of clay, bronze and silver are commonplace, as are cooking
utensils and clay stoves.  Wood is used for fuel, in spite of its

Evenings in the average Egyptian household are devoted to quiet family
time, prior to retiring for the night to rest up for the following
day’s tasks.


Egypt: Daily Life

Life By The Nile (via the Internet archive)

Life in Ancient Egypt - Carnegie Museum of Natural History Exhibitions

Life of Ancient Egyptians

The History of Bread

A history of dental care


2,500 - 1,500 years ago
Around 500 BC to 500AD

Octavian, 15
Patrician Schoolboy
Self Portrait

It’s well before daybreak when Mother wakes me for school.  I’m still
so tired!  But I must rise, Mother tells me that my education is the
most important thing in my life.  I stretch and rise from my pallet,
and head for the bath.

Julia, our servant, has laid a fresh tunic on the low stone bench for
me, crisp white linen with a deep crimson border.  *sigh*  I look
forward to becoming a citizen - next year! - so I may do away with
childish things and wear the pure white tunic of a citizen.  She has
drawn a hot bath for me, and has left fresh towels for me as well.

Julia says that in other homes, there is only cold running water or
none at all, and that years ago, there was no running water!  Even
worse, there weren’t any toilet facilities - not even the public
latrines we have in Rome today.  Ugh.  Dreadful.  I’m glad to live in
such modern, civilized times.  I don’t think I could bear living
without running water or a decent toilet.

I bathe quickly, wishing I could stay and soak, knowing my time is
limited.  If I am late, the headmaster will be furious, and he’s not a
man to be trifled with.  I dry myself and dress, and quickly scrub my
teeth before dashing across the courtyard to the dining room.  The
servants have already laid a good breakfast out - bread, wine, cheese
and olives.  Mother sits at the table, father has already left for the
Senate for the day.  We eat together and Mother asks after my studies.
 She is very strict with me, reminding me that it is important to be
well educated, that I may become a Senator like Father.  Though I
think Father’s job is interesting enough, She hands me a few candles,
my wax tablet and scrolls, and shoos me outside, encouraging me to
hurry so I am not late.

I scurry through the dark street, and find that my friend and
schoolmate, Marcus, is just ahead of me.  I call to him to wait, and
we walk the remaining distance to school together.  He has been to the
bakery, and is wolfing down a pancake as we walk.  He rose late again,
his mother isn’t nearly as strict as mine.

When we arrive at school, we stop to light our candles at one of the
oil lamps burning near the entrance.  It’s important to remember to
bring candles each day, lest we haven’t light enough to read by before
the sun rises.  The headmaster is already there, and he greets us with
a curt nod and a gesture to sit.

We spend the day studying intensely.  The Twelve Tables of Law, the
duties of a Roman citizen, philosophy, arithmetic, grammar, oration. 
By midday, I’m famished and my brain hurts.  The headmaster pushes us
very hard, and it requires all of my energy to concentrate.  I’m
relieved to have a break to go home for lunch!

Julia has prepared lunch for me - Mother is at the Forum, most likely
shopping or visiting with friends.  I have a piece of cold fish, some
bread and cheese, and then I go back outside to look for Marcus. 
Marcus and I throw a ball around for a little while, each of us trying
to throw harder than the other.  It feels good to be out in the sun
and fresh air!  Our break time is soon over, though, and we rush back
to school to finish our lessons for the day.

When I return home, I find that my sister is in the courtyard with
Mother.  They are sewing, and Mother looks very pleased with my
sister’s progress.  Father is inside, having returned from the Senate,
and is preparing to attend a dinner party in the home of another
Senator this evening.  He claps me on the shoulder and asks after my
studies, particularly after my lessons in oration.  I explain what the
headmaster has taught us, and he tells me I will make a fine Senator
some day.  I hope this is so, I want very much to follow in Father’s

Father leaves for the dinner party, and I join Mother and my sister in
the dining room.  Julia and our other servants have prepared a
delicious meal for us - roasted pigeon, figs, dates, cheese, grapes,
bread and wine.  We linger over dinner, enjoying each others’ company
and the chance to relax.  Mother informs us that we are to see the
physician tomorrow, to ensure that we are healthy.  People don’t seem
to fall ill very often, but when they do, our physicians are usually
able to cure them.  We are very fortunate to have such skilled healers
here.  We sit in the courtyard for a little while after dinner, to
look at the stars and enjoy the night breezes, then I retire to my
sleeping quarters, for it will soon be time to rise again and spend
another day at school.


[ Although much changed in the government and in world events, day to
day life in ancient Rome changed very little over the course of a
thousand years. ]


Daily Life in Ancient Rome

The Romans

Mr. Dowling's Electronic Passport:  Rome

Roman Ball Games

Timeline of the Roman Empire


1,500 - 750 years ago
About 500 AD to 1250AD
The Dark Ages


Life in Middle Ages London, while often portrayed in books and movies
as glamorous and romantic, was anything but. Living conditions were
harsh and often dangerous.

The average Londoner of the time could expect to begin the day at the
Angelus Bell (first bell), usually rung at 4AM.  This bell signaled
the beginning of the first Mass of the day and the end of the Night
Watch’s shift.

Shop owners of the era were expected to open their doors at 6AM, to
allow for early morning shopping before a 9AM or 10AM breakfast. 
Marketplaces were busy for the better part of the morning, leaving
precious little time for the busy shopkeeper to eat a few bits of
bread and a morsel of cheese to break his fast.

The tasks of going to market, cooking and minding the house fell,
perhaps unsurprisingly, to the women.  They would rise at Angelus Bell
to prepare their fires, sweep the hearth, and get the children washed
before leaving for the marketplace.  Upon returning, they would
prepare a simple breakfast of bread and cheese, and occasionally fresh
fruit when it was available, before beginning the day’s chores.

Women of the day spun their own yarn and often wove or knitted their
own cloth .  Clothing was simple, often coarse and sewn at home. 
Shoes could be purchased from tanners, but leather goods were
expensive.  Much of the medieval woman’s day was spent marketing,
sewing new clothing, mending older clothing, educating the children
(though children were often sent off to work as apprentices) and
preparing the family meals, while the husband worked as a baker,
shopkeeper, tanner, tavern keeper, blacksmith or barber.

With the exception of blacksmiths, tanners, barbers and taverns, shops
closed at around 3PM, allowing the shopkeepers to go home for a midday
meal, before tending to their livestock and small gardens.

The diet was surprisingly varied for the time - grains such as wheat,
oats and barely were staples.  Meat consisted of pork or chicken
(families often kept their own pigs and chickens in small pens behind
their houses), mutton from the market, and wild fowl caught during a
hunt.  Leeks, onions and garlic were used for seasoning, and
vegetables such as parsnips, "welsh carrots", peas and beans were
cultivated in home gardens.  Available fruits included small apples,
cherries and plums.  Use of herbs and spices was very common, perhaps
to disguise the flavor of food beginning to spoil (which doubtless
contributed to many cases of food poisoning). Cookware was typically
of clay and sometimes iron, with bread being baked in a clay oven or
on an iron griddle.  Since most cooking was done over an open fire,
meals typically consisted of stew of one kind or another, or roasted

Sanitation in medieval London was a cause for great concern.  Sewage
was drained into channels along the streets, and garbage was thrown
onto midden heaps behind the house.  It wasn’t common to wash one’s
hands regularly, so intestinal disorders from contact with sewage were
commonplace, as was disease spread by biting flies, and plague spread
by rats in the latter part of the era.  Food harvesting methods often
made it difficult to sort weeds from grain, and and storage methods
were crude, resulting in the spread of  foodborne illnesses. 
Townsfolk were additionally bothered by pests such as mites and
bedbugs, which also carried disease.

Medical care, expensive and available primarily to the wealthy, was
often a very risky proposition.  Physicians of the time believed that
diseases were caused by foul odors and "bad humors".  Bloodletting was
the traditional treatment for all manner of illness, though it often
served to worsen the condition rather than better it.  Herbal folk
remedies were abundant, but often included ingredients such as ground
earthworms, urine, and animal excrement!

Although building with stone was recommended to reduce fire risk, most
homes (those of the commonfolk) were built of wood, with thatched
roofs and very tiny window openings with shutters that were closed at
night or in bad weather.  Commoners’ homes were typically very small,
just two or three rooms, with dirt floors and a large hearth.  
Furnishings were very simple - low wooden benches (sometimes with
linen tacked or glued on for some measure of comfort if the family
could afford it), wooden tables, and straw mattresses for sleeping. 
Light was provided by the fire and tallow candles.

Homes were veritable tinder boxes - homeowners of the period were
required to keep a large container of water outside their front door
to aid in fire fighting, and all were expected to go running with
whatever water and equipment they had at their disposal if a house
caught fire.

The more well-to-do common folk might venture forth at the end of the
day to enjoy a pint of ale and a bit of music at the tavern.  Others
would sit before the fire after dinner - men often smoking a pipe or
telling stories to the children.  Curfew bell rang at about 9PM,
signaling the remaining shopkeepers that the business day was at an

Residents were expected to go home then, and stay there until Angelus
Bell the next morning.


750  years ago - 400 years ago
About 1250AD - 1600AD
End of the Dark Ages through the Renaissance

Though many sources abound discussing the "cultural revolution" of the
Renaissance, there is very little that would indicate any sort of
change in living conditions.  In fact, sources tend to lump the
periods together, with respect to living conditions.  The changes were
largely political and cultural, and had very little effect on day to
day living, with the notable exception that there was more demand for

In the early part of the era, famine and malnutrition were common,
thanks to the unseasonably cold and wet summers of 1315 - 1317 and the
burgeoning population of the early 1300s.  Towns were overcrowded,
food was scarce, and families often resorted to eating their seed
grain, draft horses - and pets.

Diseases such as leprosy, typhoid and pneumonia still ran rampant, as
sanitation was still a problem.

As the era progressed, the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe,
decimating the populations.  The Black Death was responsible for the
deaths of thousands, wiping out nearly half the population of some
crowded cities, and fully a quarter of the population across Europe.

Medieval England - daily life in medieval towns

What Was It Really Like In The Middle Ages

Medieval Health

The Medieval Europe Chronology

Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England

Medieval Life

The Peripheral Period

The Medieval Experience - Medieval Life and Times Research Unit

Medieval and Renaissance Culture

Orlando's Research



300  - 200 years ago
1700 - 1800 Colonial America

During America’s Colonial years, fully 90% of the population lived in
rural areas.  Though schoolhouses became increasingly common, the
majority of the population of the time could neither read nor write.

Life on a Colonial farm was bustling.  Families rose before dawn -
women to start the cooking fires and prepare breakfast, men and
children to feed the livestock, milk the cows, gather eggs before
returning to have breakfast.  Breakfast usually consisted of porridge,
bread, butter, cheese and cider or milk.

After breakfast, the children went to school to learn basic
arithmetic, reading, writing and prayers.  Textbooks were scarce -
children were responsible for bringing their own bible, primer and
hornbook from which to learn.  Mathematics lessons were recited and
learned by rote, as were simple poems and stories.  "Disciplinary"
tactics such as whipping, dunce caps and "whisper sticks" were
commonplace to maintain order in the classroom.

While the children were at school men alternately hunted for game or
worked the fields, while the women spun yarn and thread, wove cloth,
sewed clothing, made soap and/or candles, and prepared meals. 
Harvested fruits and vegetables were carefully dried and stored in
cellars for winter, meats were salted and cured or smoked.  It wasn’t
unusual for a Colonial woman to perform most or even all of these
tasks on a single day!

The children returned home from school shortly before dinner, usually
around 5 PM.  They were expected to help with chores around the farm -
churning butter, feeding livestock again, hauling water, chopping wood
- while their mother prepared the evening meal and their father
returned from the fields or hunting.  Children were expected to help
their father clean any game caught that day.

A young girl listed the following chores accomplished in her journal,
in 1775:

"Fixed gown for Prude, mend Mother's Riding Hood, Spun short thread,
Fixed two gowns for Welsh's girls, Carded tow, Spun linen, Worked on
cheese basket, Hatchel'd flax with Hannah, 51 pounds each, Pleated and
ironed, Read sermon of Dodridge's, Spooled apiece, Milked cows, Spun
linen-50 knots, Made broom from Guinea wheat straw, Spun thread to
whiten, Set a red dye, Had 2 scholars for Mrs. Taylor, Carded 2 pounds
of wool Nationally, Spun harness twine, Scoured pewter, Ague in face,
Ellen spark'd last night, Went to Mr. Otis's and made them a swinging
visit . . . "

Staple foods of the Colonial diet included pork and corn, often
supplemented with oats, barley  and rye.  Potatoes, carrots, and
cabbages were grown on the farm for family consumption, as were apples
and cherries.  Venison was commonly served, as well as chicken, mutton
and occasionally beef.

Light was provided by the fireplace and by candles made by hand. 
Women and girls often spent their evenings before the fire, sewing or
embroidering, while boys and men tended to repairs of furnishings
(wooden tables and chairs) and cooking pots, before retiring to
straw-stuffed mattresses for the night’s rest.

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Children in Colonial Times

Education for Boys and Girls

Colonial America (via Google’s Cache) 

Colonial FAQs

Perspectives on Liberty

Daily Life in the 1700's'S/Daily.htm

Colonial America - Ye Olde Research Links


About 100 years ago 
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Charles Rohleder 

"There was no welfare to help you out.  If you were poor, you went to
the missions.

My mother rolled tobacco into cigars at home to try and raise a little
extra money.  Actually, we all pitched in and helped - my father, my
grandfather, me - everybody who was in the house. […] We would spread
out these leaves and just roll and roll and talk and talk…"


"I started working when I was six years old, selling newspapers on the

Pittsburgh was very dirty back then.  Everyone burned coal for heat,
and it was soft coal, which emits a lot of sulfur and black fumes. 
Some days, you couldn’t even see the sun at noontime because of the
thick smoke." (p10)

Excerpted from The Century for Young People, by Peter Jennings and
Todd Brewster
1999, Random House, Inc. 1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036
ISBN 0-385-32708-0

Life in Pittsburgh in the early part of the century was difficult. 
Daddy typically went to work in the early hours of the morning in one
of the many factories or canneries in the city.  It fell to Mother to
tend to the household and care for the children (who often themselves
had to work instead of going to school).  Clothes of the era were
usually handmade by the mother - in many families, the grandparents
were also in residence, and Grandmother assisted with the sewing and
cooking chores.

Some vegetables were raised in backyard gardens, and canned for later
use.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were available from farmers’ markets
in abundance, and butcher shops carried a variety of meats - spring
chicken, lamb, beef, veal, sausages, pork.

Families washed using a basin and pitcher, and bathtime happened once
a week - Mother would heat water on the coal stove until a large
washtub was filled, and the family would share the bathwater by turns,
starting with Daddy, all the way down through the children.  (Ew.) 
Laundry was scrubbed by hand in the backyard with a washboard and lye
soap in the washtub, then hung on the line to dry.  Clothes were
pressed by hand, using an iron heated at the fire or on the coal
burning stove.

Although disease was still a problem - notably tuberculosis,
pneumonia, polio and diptheria, medical care was more readily
available in the cities than in rural areas.


Not quite 80 years ago
1903 - 1935
Plains, Georgia

"Our house was typical of those occupied by middle-income landowners
of the time.  Set back about 50 feet from the dirt road, it was
square, painted tan to match the dust, and had a broad front porch and
a split shingle roof.  The rooms were laid out shotgun style, with a
hall that went down the middle of the house dividing the living room,
dining room and kitchen on the left side from three bedrooms on the
right.  We also had a screened porch that extended across the back of
the house, where we worked and stored things such as well water, corn
for the chickens, and extra wood to keep it dry." (p29)


"There is little doubt that I now recall those days with more fondness
than they deserve.  We drew water from a well in the yard, and every
day of the year, we had the chore of keeping extra bucketfuls in the
kitchen and on the back porch, combined with the constant wood sawing
and chopping to supply the cooking stove and fireplaces.  In every
bedroom was a slop jar (chamber pot) that was emptied each morning
into the outdoor privy, about 20 yards from our back door.  This small
shack had a large hold for adults and a lower and smaller one for


"It was a great day for our family in 1935 when Daddy purchased from a
mail-order catalogue and erected a windmill with a high wooden tank
and pipes that provided running water for the kitchen and a bathroom
with a toilet.  We even had a rudimentary shower made from a large tin
can with its bottom perforated by nail holes." (p31)


"Our artificial light came from kerosene lamps, and it was considered
almost sinful to leave one burning in an unoccupied room." (p31)


"I didn’t know of any rural families that had electric lights until
the rural electrification program came along in the late 1930’s."


"The worst job was getting up in the morning to start a fire going
somewhere in the frigid house. […]  There was an open fireplace in the
living room that we lit only late in the afternoon, when the family
would gather there, but the fire (later a wood-burning heater) in the
bedroom where Mama and Daddy slept was made at dawn…"  (p33)


"Almost all our food was produced in our pasture, fields, garden and
yard." (p33)

Excerpts from:  

An Hour Before Daylight:  Memories of a Rural Boyhood, by Jimmy Carter
2001, Touchstone Books
Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
ISBN 0-7432-1193-6

Former President Carter goes on to discuss daily life in rural 1930’s
Georgia in vivid detail, beginning with rising before dawn to start
the fire, to assisting with chopping wood and tending livestock,
before leaving for a small, one room school house for his daily
studies.  Clothes were simple and made at home, and shoes were worn
only when absolutely necessary, as they were considered an expensive

After school each day, he assisted in the fields - first as a water
carrier for the farmhands, and later as a farmhand himself, assisting
with the harvest of whatever crop was in the field at the time - corn,
cotton, peanuts, sugar cane.

Conditions such as hookworm, dysentery, pellagra and headlice were
very common, as were diptheria , influenza, pneumonia and polio.  More
feared than polio in rural Georgia, however, was rabies - rabid dogs
were common, contracting the disease from rat bites.  Treatments
ranged from patent medicines of the time for hookworm and dysentary
and kerosene shampoos for headlice, to a series of 21 painful
abdominal injections for rabies, and hospitalization for diptheria and
polio.  There was no medical insurance, and doctors were typically
many miles off in the larger cities.

[ Note:  I just finished this book not even a week ago.  It’s an
incredible portrait of rural life in the Depression era.  Well worth
the time to read! ]

Other notes of interest in the early 1900s:  

1900 - George Eastman makes first portable camera 
1901 - Electric typewriter is invented 
1902  - The U.S. Navy installs the first radio telephone aboard ships
1903 - Henry Ford founds Ford Motor Co.
          - Orville and Wilbur Wright take the first test flight at
Kitty Hawk, NC
          - The first World Series is held, Boston vs. Pittsburgh 
1904  - The first comic book is invented
          - The answering machine is invented
1905 - The first Yellow Pages is invented
         - The Jukebox is invented with 24 songs.
1906 - 2,500 people die from an earthquake in San Francisco
        -  An animated cartoon is created
 1907 - The Lamiere brothers create still color photography
 1908 - Henry Ford makes his first Model T
 1910 - First electric self-starter for automobiles
           - First air conditioner invented
 1912  -  U.S. Public Health Service is established
           - First use of zippers in clothing
 1913 - Ford Motor Company introduces the moving assembly line
 1920 - First radio broadcast
 1922 - first traffic light
 1924 - first road atlas and shopping center
 1925 - first motel
 1926 - first television transmission
 1927 - first talking movie, The Jazz Singer
 1928 - first animated cartoon - Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie
 1929 - first public parking garage

The 1900’s : A New Beginning

Decade of Tomorrow

The Roaring Twenties

The Century for Young People, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
1999, Random House, Inc. 1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036
ISBN 0-385-32708-0

An Hour Before Daylight:  Memories of a Rural Boyhood, by Jimmy Carter
2001, Touchstone Books
Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
ISBN 0-7432-1193-6


60 - 40 years ago
1943 - 1963

At the end of WWII in 1946, affordable homes were not only in demand,
they were widely available.  Returning veterans often fled the cities
and farms for newly constructed homes in the suburbs.  Homes had
electricity, hot and cold running water, and electric appliances such
as stoves, refrigerators and washing machines.  Some families also had
clothes dryers, but most still dried laundry on clotheslines outside. 
Most families had automobiles, television made its appearance in homes
in the 1950’s, and women who had worked during the war could often
choose between continuing work.

One woman of the era describes a typical day in the mid 50’s:

"Ernie would get up every morning at 6 to be ready for work at 8. 
He’d shower and shave, while I made coffee - we still had percolators
then - and breakfast.  He liked to have oatmeal in the mornings.  I’d
pack a couple sandwiches or some fried chicken for him, and sometimes
a thermos bottle of soup to take for lunch.  Ernie worked from 8AM til
5PM, Monday through Friday, and he was *busy*.  You wouldn’t think an
appliance repairman would be so busy, but he was.  He’d have a dozen
orders waiting for him by the time he got to the shop, usually
housecalls for broken washing machines!  After he left for work at
7:30, I’d start the housework.

The first task was always washing diapers.  Jim was just a baby then,
and he went through plenty of cloth diapers.  We didn’t have
disposable diapers, either, so I spent a lot of time doing laundry! 
While the washing machine was running, I’d wash the breakfast dishes
and make a couple bottles for Jim.  Sometimes I’d finish before he
woke up, but usually not, and I’d have to stop to give him a bottle. 
Then I’d put him in his baby swing and finish that up.

Once the dishes were done, I hung the diapers out on the line to dry,
and came back inside to clean up the bathroom.  Ernie always got
shaving soap all over the mirror, and left it for me to clean up!

I’d stop for a little while to play with Jim, then take him into the
next room with me to do the dusting.  We lived very close to the
grocers, so we’d walk down every day to pick up whatever we were out
of.  We’d stop on the way home to visit with neighbors or pick up
stamps at the post office, then go home to finish the chores.  I had
diapers to take off the line and fold, and there were usually weeds
sticking up from the flower beds asking to be pulled.

I’d feed Jim again, change his diaper and put him down for a nap, then
I’d start dinner.  Ernie wasn’t very well paid then, so we ate quite a
lot of chicken and spaghetti.  If we were having chicken, I’d take it
out of the icebox, clean it and stuff it, and put it in the oven on a
slow roast.  We always had potatoes and two vegetables, and bread and
butter.  While dinner was in the oven, I would do another load of
laundry or do the mending.

Ernie would come home at dinner time, ready to eat.  He’d give Jim a
bottle while I got dinner on the table, then put him back in his swing
while we had dinner.  We’d do the dishes together, then take the baby
outside to sit on the porch.  Sometimes we’d visit neighbors or they
would visit us, but usually we’d just sit and watch people and the

In the evenings, we’d listen to the radio - we didn’t own a television
until the mid 60’s! - and I’d feed Jim again and put him down for the
night.  Sometimes we would read, Ernie would carve, I would knit or
crochet.  We never stayed up very late.  Bed time was about 9PM!"

The 40’s

WWII: The Home Front

The 50’s Web

The Century for Young People, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
1999, Random House, Inc. 1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036
ISBN 0-385-32708-0

I also interviewed my mother in-law (a retired nurse) and my father
in-law (an army veteran and retired appliance repairman) for their
perspectives.  It is their daily life from this era described above.


10 - 20 years ago
Toledo, OH
April 6th, 1993

Journal Entry, young working class mother.

4AM - The doorbell rings.  That’s my cue to get out of bed - my
newspapers are here and I have a large route to throw.  I have about
400 customers between 5 apartment communities, including my own very
small one.  As I’m pulling on my fleece pants and sneakers, the bell
rings again.  AI!  I wish he wouldn’t do that…people are sleeping.

I dash to the terrace door and lean over the railing.  My district
manager is waiting with special instructions.  Great.  I tell him to
wait long enough for me to brush my teeth, then I’ll come down.  I
pull my hair into a ponytail, not even bothering to brush it - that
can wait!  I quickly brush my teeth, then check my carrier bag to make
sure my portable CD player is still in it.  I add a banana and a
granola bar to the bag, dash into the hall, and sprint down the

4:15AM - Thomas has a short list of customers who are on vacation and
don’t need papers today.  They called too late to be added to the Stop
List automatically.  Also, I have 6 new customers at Lake of the
Woods, and 4 more at Greenleaf.  Mrs. Patterson at Lake of the Woods
has left instructions that I’m to pick up a small box from her
doorstep - she hasn’t said what it is, just that I’m to take it.  I
grin insolently at my manager, tell him he’s holding up progress, and
drop my first bundle into my bag.  I put my earphones on, start up the
CD player (U2 this morning), snap a handful of green rubberbands
around my wrist, and take off to throw my route, rolling the
newspapers as I walk quickly along the paths.  I have to key in to
each building, but I’ve been throwing the route long enough that I
don’t have to climb stairs - each rolled paper is pitched up over the
rails to land in front of the appropriate door.  I used to have
terrible aim, but now it’s perfect.

I finish my complex quickly, stop at my door to pick up the next
bundle, and continue to the next community - there are 5 communities
clustered together, and I walk to them all.  First to Giant Oaks, next
door.  Stop home, pick up another bundle, cross the street to
Greenleaf.  Stop home, pick up the last two bundles.  Deliver the
first leg of Lake of the Woods, following back to the fence the
property shares with the last community.  I hoist the second bundle
over the fence - it will remain unmolested until I go to pick it up. 
As I walk back to resume delivery, I pull my banana out of my bag, and
peel it.

I quickly throw Lake of the Woods, retrieve the package from Mrs.
Patterson’s stoop (which turns out to be a t-shirt from her recent
trip to the Bahamas, for Alex), then round the corner into Country
Trace, retrieve my last bundle, and throw my remaining 75 papers,
rolling and banding them as I walk.  I complete the circle, and hop
the fence back over to Lake of the Woods.  I take my granola bar out
to eat on the way home, cutting through the back of the community,
past the duck pond, and slipping through the hole in the fence to find
myself home.

6AM - All is quiet.  I lay down on the couch to nap, and the cat takes
the opportunity to curl up on my stomach.

7:15AM - Husband’s alarm sounds.  I wake from my nap to help him get
ready for work, grinding coffee beans and setting a pan of bacon to
fry.  I scramble some eggs, and start packing a lunch of roast beef
sandwiches (from pot roast from the previous night), a piece of fruit,
a cup of tapioca pudding, and a can of soda.  Our budget is very
tight, so he packs instead of going out.

7:30AM - Alex is awake and complaining that he wants breakfast.  At
nearly three, he sleeps in a bed instead of a crib now, which has made
life a bit more active.  He just gets up when he pleases and comes out
when he’s ready.  No extra nap for me today!  He climbs into his
booster seat on his own and pelts me with questions:  Where’s Daddy? 
What’s for breakfast?  Can I have orange juice?  Can I have bacon?  Is
toast ready?

7:45AM - Husband emerges from shower, to great cries of glee from
little Alex.  They converse happily about the upcoming day.  Alex is
going to look at the pre-school today!  We sit together for breakfast
and go over the plan for the day:  work for the husband from 9AM -
4PM, then again from 7PM to 10PM at second job.  Appointment for me to
tour the Montessori school from 9AM to 10:30AM with Alex.  Grocery
shopping, laundry, dinner preparations.

8:30AM - Husband leaves for work.  Alex helps clear the table.  I load
the dishwasher and start it, then ask Alex if he wants his bath first
or if he’d rather watch TV while I showered.  He chose bath.  I run a
tub of warm water for him, with a splash of bubble bath.  He complains
when I wash his hair, because he’s afraid of getting shampoo in his
eyes, then drastically changes his tune when I pull him out of the tub
to dry off.  "I am NAKEY BABY!", he shouts and streaks off sans towel,
giggling.  I let him go.  It makes him happy and I don’t have time to
chase him down.  I shower quickly, and step out to find that Alex has
dressed himself.  More or less.  His shirt is inside out and
backwards, but otherwise not bad.  I tell him what he’s missed, towel
off, and dress myself, then turn my attention to getting him ready to
go.  He protests that he can do it himself, thank you, and squirms
free to adjust his clothes on his own.

8:50AM - I instruct Alex to go into the hallway, then follow him with
a basket of laundry under my arm.  We dash down the steps, and stop at
the washer and dryer in the downstairs alcove.  I dump the basket into
the washer, scoop out a measure of detergent, close the lid, push the
quarters in, and start the machine.  Alex reaches up to take my hand,
and we quickly dash across the street to the Montessori school.

9AM - We meet with Miss Karen at Westside, and spend the next hour and
a half touring the school, discussing the Montessori curriculum, and
discussing tuition.  Alex is enthralled by the bright colors and the
happy children, and flits from table to table to look at projects.  I
fill out the papers and write the first tuition check as he bounces
happily.  It’s expensive, we really can’t comfortably afford it, but
he wants to go to school so badly.  Oh well.  This is why I throw the

10:35AM - We cross the street to go home, stopping again in the
laundry alcove downstairs.  I switch the laundry from the washer to
the dryer, start the machine, and head upstairs.  There is a message
waiting from the pediatrician, reminding me of Alex’s appointment next

I drop to the sofa in exhaustion, and ask Alex how he feels about a
little Sesame Street.  He is delighted with the idea, and climbs onto
the sofa with me.  I stretch out and he clambers down to sit behind my
legs.  I doze off just after the opening credits.

NOON - I wake to Alex tugging at my hand.  He wants to know if it’s
time for lunch.  It is, and he insists that he has to have a hot dog. 
On the grill.  With a toasted bun.  He’s very particular about his
lunch.  I step onto the terrace and turn on the gas grill, then set a
single hot dog on the grate to roast, and slip a bun into the toasting
rack.  While lunch is cooking, I feed the cats and change their water,
then take Alex’s lunch off the grill and turn it off.  He sits at the
table with his lunch of a hot dog, a pickle, a banana, and a cup of
chocolate milk, while I unload the dishwasher and put the dishes away.

12:30PM - I run downstairs to retrieve laundry from the dryer, bring
it back upstairs, and fold it.  Alex follows the cats around, meowing.
 He likes to pretend.

1PM - Out the door again.  Alex and I meander to the new bus stop at
the corner to go to the grocery store.  The bus is late, but we don’t
mind.  The trip is about fifteen minutes long, and we spend half an
hour in the store to replenish the basics - milk, bread, eggs, cheese,
pasta.  I select a few fresh vegetables for dinner, and we head out to
catch the bus home.

2:30PM - We arrive home.  I put the groceries away, then set about
preparing dinner.  I decide on roasted chicken, so I pull a chicken
out of the freezer and put it in the microwave to thaw.  I peel
several potatoes and place them in chilled, salted water, and clean
the carrots I just purchased at the grocer’s.  They’re large and very
fresh, with bright green tops.  I slice them and put them into a
covered dish.  They will be steamed later and dressed in butter.

3PM - the microwave sounds, and I pull the chicken out.  I rinse it in
cold water, pat it dry, and rub it with lemon, salt and basil.  Into
the oven it goes to roast.  If I’ve timed it right, it will be ready
to come out of the oven just as the husband gets home from work.

3:30PM - I quarter the potatoes that have been sitting in the salted
water, toss them into a pot of fresh cold water, and set them on the
stove to boil.

4PM - the potatoes are done.  I drain them carefully, and transfer
them to a large glass bowl, to which I add salt, pepper, cream and
butter.  I mash them thoroughly and set them aside.  The covered dish
of carrots goes into the microwave to steam.  I pull the chicken out
of the oven, transfer it to a platter to cool slightly, and make gravy
from the pan drippings.

4:15PM - husband is home for dinner.  He changes clothes, then sets
the table while Alex plays in his booster seat. I finish the gravy,
give the potatoes a good stir, pull the carrots out of the microwave,
and carve the chicken.  We sit down to dinner and converse about the
day’s events.

5:30PM - husband takes Alex out to the duckpond to play while I take
care of dishes and kitchen.

6PM - I sit down to computer briefly to edit route list, making note
of new Stops, Adds, and Collects.  The computer is old - nearly ten
years old! - but serves the purpose admirably, and helps me keep the
route list well ordered.  I remember when computers became more
common, and am grateful to have a computer to make my book-keeping and
list-making tasks more efficient.

6:30PM - Husband brings Alex back in, covered in mud!  Oh dear.  He
kisses us both goodbye, and heads for his second job - in the produce
department of a local market.  I hustle Alex off to the tub to see
about finding him under the layers of grime.  While I scrub, he
regales me with tales of chasing the duckies.  *sigh*

7PM - Bedtime for Alex.  I brush his teeth, dress him in pajamas, read
him two stories, then turn off his light and caution him to stay in

7:45PM - settle into chair to read newspaper that I delivered to the
rest of the neighborhood fifteen hours ago.  I catch up on
correspondence, pay bills, call my sister in-law to make plans for the
following week, and watch a little television.  There’s not much to
watch, so I turn it off, pick up a thick book from the shelf, and
settle in to read.

10:15PM - husband returns home from second job.  He notes that the car
is making strange noises and asks me to make an appointment with a
mechanic in the morning while he is at work.  We talk briefly.  It’s
been a busy day and we’re both exhausted, but there are still plans
that need to be made for the rest of the week.  At last, I toddle off
to brush my teeth again, coil my hair into a bun, slip into soft
pajamas, and crawl into bed.

11PM - lights out.  I’m surely asleep before my head hits the pillow -
necessary to get up and do this all over again tomorrow, with only a
few variations.


Source:  personal journal entries and recollections.

This was quite an expansive project, taking a little longer than I had
expected, and I owe thanks to those who helped:

Digsalot-ga and his Archaeology site:
Omnivorous-ga and his source suggestions.
Larre-ga, for the amusing correspondence
Kutsavi-ga for the interesting extra reference
My eldest son, Alexander, for the kind loan of his prized Field Museum
photos and notes, and for keeping the household out of trouble while I

My search strategy included: [ "(insert number) years ago" life ], [
"(insert number of years) BC"  life OR timeline ], [ "(insert number
of years) AD "life OR timeline ] and assorted phrases culled from
these results (in no particular order):

"cave art"
"fertile crescent"
"first toothbrush"
"indoor plumbing"
"first outhouse"
"Twelve Tables"
"first dam"
"sanitation in the Middle Ages"
electricity "in homes"
"agricultural revolution"
"industrial revolution"
disease (year)

Additional sources:

History of Food Development

LIFE: Our Century in Pictures
by Richard B. Stolley and Editors of LIFE Magazine
Bulfinch Press
ISBN: 0-821-22633-9

I used Google, Questia [ ] and BigChalk 
[ ], as well as online access to the
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, The Encyclopaedia Britannica
Online, several books from my own collection (including personal
journals and "The Century for Young People" by Peter Jennings), notes
from the Michelangelo exhibit I attended at the Toledo Museum of Art
last year, and I caught a few interesting details while watching the
Discovery Channel during dinner.

Request for Answer Clarification by qpet-ga on 08 Apr 2003 14:46 PDT
Hi Missy,
You clearly put a lot of effort into this answer. Thank you! I get a
good picture of life at different times in history. Overall, though, I
miss some more of the hardships, dangers and disease our ancestors
endured. (In my question I said: Primarily focus on making a living
and living conditions including diseases and other dangers)If you
could compliment your wonderful writing with some bullet points, I
think that would complete the project.(With focus on diseases and
inconveniencies with examples on when they alleviated through
innovation)I am happy to compensate for the extra time with a tip(up
to $100 depending on your time spent)I hope that works for you,thanks
again for now.

Clarification of Answer by missy-ga on 08 Apr 2003 15:21 PDT
Hi qpet,

Were there any time periods in particular you felt needed elaboration,
or should I go through each?

(I've not really slept since locking your question, so I'm a bit
muddled at the moment.)


Request for Answer Clarification by qpet-ga on 08 Apr 2003 17:43 PDT
Hi Missy, no rush, get some rest. I'd love to have some info on early
hardships and later ones(I don't need them for every
period)Essentially what I am after is to compare our living conditions
to other time periods. For example the extraction of a tooth 200 years
ago must have been horrific, 100 years ago 3 out of 5 children died
from diarrhea, pneumonia killed about everyone who got infected, food
would spoil in a day without refrigeration......
See what you can find, thanks

Clarification of Answer by missy-ga on 08 Apr 2003 18:08 PDT
Ok, super!  That narrows things down for me.  You'd be utterly
*shocked* at the amount of material available for some periods.  I'll
dive back in tomorrow morning and get it written up for you!


Clarification of Answer by missy-ga on 10 Apr 2003 14:33 PDT
Hello qpet!

Please accept my apologies for the delay.  It seems that modern
medicine hasn’t figured out a way to deal 100% effectively with the
common cold yet, and none of the Medieval cures were appetizing enough
to experiment with!


As one might well imagine, medical care through the ages has improved
immensely, with a stunning array of discoveries being made only at the
beginning of the 20th century.

Consider methods of analgesia.  Today, we have a variety of
medications available to help manage pain - Excedrin for migraines,
Icy Hot for minor arthritis or muscle pain, Celebrex for chronic
arthritis, even various preparations to help ease tooth pain,
menstrual cramps, hemorrhoids, and a host of other common, yet easily
treatable pains.

In the earliest days of humanity’s existence, these preparations were
completely unknown.  Although very little is known about how our early
ancestors dealt with pain, there is some evidence of rudimentary
beginnings of medical care.  It’s thought that early humans believed
pain and illness to be caused by malicious spirits.  Sources suggest
that these spirits were "let out" by a procedure called trepanning, in
which a hole is bored through the scalp and a piece of bone is
removed.  It is thought that this procedure was used to relieve
chronic headaches (possibly migraines), seizures (caused perhaps by
epilepsy) and symptoms of closed head injuries (perhaps caused by an
encounter with a predator or by a fall).  Even more astonishing,
excavations have uncovered skulls on which the procedure has been
performed in various states of healing, indicating that at least some
patients survived this procedure.  This also points to the likelihood
that pre-historic man knew how to set bones, though the specifics of
this early care are unknown.

[ Note:  You can see an example of a trepanned skull here:

Some evidence indicates that crude herbal analgesia may have been used
- willow bark, the shoots of certain herbs, and even early
"acupressure" to help relieve pain.  Poultices of ground herbs were
likely used to treat cuts (and bites!), but the efficacy of these is

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our earliest ancestors were prone to disease. 
Sources show that diseases such as pneumonia and typhus were
prevalent, as well as malnutrition, periodontal disease, and parasitic
infections cause by lack of sanitation and only crude methods of food
preservation.   Refrigeration was unknown (though there is evidence
that our early ancestors understood that food lasted longer when
stored in a cool cave or packed in snow), and methods of drying were
only rudimentary, at best.  Infection with pneumonia or typhus was
virtually 100% fatal, and those injured by predators fared little

It wasn’t until Ancient Egypt that medical care and sanitation began
to improve.  Though diseases such as malaria and typhoid were common
(spread by mosquitoes) and parasitic infections due to lack of proper
sanitation were still a problem, physicians of the time had discovered
that certain herbal remedies could help relieve symptoms of other
ailments.   Knowledge of the human body had expanded somewhat by this
time, thanks to the art of embalming, but only to the extent that
physicians of the era were aware of the locations of various organs,
the function of kidneys, and that the pulse was produced by the heart.
 Ancient Egyptian physicians believed that the body was like the Nile,
comprised of many channels, and that if any of these channels were
blocked, a person would become ill.  Typical treatments of the time
included "purging" (induced vomiting) and bloodletting.  Simple
surgical procedures were performed, including lancing of boils and it
is believed that surgeons of the era were quite skilled at setting
bones.  Still, the lack of anesthesia ensured that these were painful

It was during this era that dentistry also came into practice. 
Ancient Egyptians made a practice of scrubbing their teeth with the
ends of frayed sticks, moistened with water, in the hopes of avoiding
a trip to the dentist.  Records show prescriptions for dental
ailments, including a mixture of onions, beans, dates and lead to be
applied to abscessed teeth, as well as evidence of tooth drilling to
drain abscesses.  Such surgeries may have been followed up with an
herbal poultice to help ease the pain, but patients were fully
conscious during the procedure. (Ouch!)

Food storage methods were beginning to improve as well - perishable
foods were dried and stored in clay jars in small huts separate from
the family home, allowing a greater flexibility with the diet. 
Spoilage was still a problem if food was improperly dried, but was
less of a problem than previously.

By the end of the Roman Empire, great strides had been made in
sanitation, allowing for very good disease prevention.  The wealthy
had flushable toilets, and even public latrines were flushed out with
water drained from the bathouses.  Romans enjoyed the baths and used
them daily. An intricate network of sewers flushed waste out and away
from the city, making for a generally healthier society.

Still, disease did occur, and Roman physicians worked hard to help
alleviate it.  They prescribed herbal remedies (some worked, others
were useless), and developed methods of surgical treatment.  During
this era, military hospitals were built to care for wounded soldiers. 
Skin grafts to treat war wounds were used extensively at this time and
were largely successful, if painful due to lack of anesthesia.  The
wounded had no choice but to "grin and bear it", biting down on either
a stick or a strap of leather while these procedures were being

Physicians of the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras gained a bit more
knowledge of the human body but still labored under the belief that
disease was cause by "malevolent spirits" and bad odors!  (Given the
non-existent sanitation measures of the time, this was probably not an
unreasonable assumption!)  There was an increased reliance on herbs
and folk remedies in an effort to treat illnesses, but some were
likely dangerous as well as useless.  Consider the following Medieval

"Ringworm- wash hair in a boy's urine.
-Gout- apply a bandage of goat's droppings mixed with rosemary herb
and honey.
-Plague- eat powdered emeralds.
-Leprosy- cover sore spot with wolf skin.
-nasal congestion- stuff mustard and onion mixture up the nose.
-Internal Bleeding- wear a dried toad in a bag around the neck."

As the list above suggests, diseases such as gout, leprosy and
ringworm ran rampant, as did afflictions such as pneumonia and
smallpox (which were nearly always fatal), cholera (from exposure to
sewage) and the bubonic plague, which was *always* fatal.  Epilepsy,
called "falling sickness" was also in evidence.  Villages and cities
of this period were dirty and overcrowded. Sanitation was completely
unknown - families used chamber pots that were then emptied into the
street, or relieved themselves in the midden heap in the back yard, or
even in a corner of their homes!  It’s little wonder that so many fell
ill during this period.

During the latter part of the 14th century, medical schools began to
appear all over Europe.  Dissections of cadavers were performed,
allowing physicians in training to become more familiar with the human
body.  The Roman Catholic Church’s stranglehold on the practice of
medicine ensured, however, that patients and doctors alike adhered to
the notion that illness was brought down upon sinners by god, and that
the only effective treatments were painful, to show god one’s sorrow
at offending him.  Typical non-herbal treatments of the age included
bloodletting and self-flagellation, neither of which, obviously, was
effective.  Anesthesia was being investigated in the early 1500s -
ether, dubbed "Oil of Vitriol" by its creator, was first synthesized
in 1540, but was not used in a surgical procedure until the 1800s. 
Surgery such as lancing boils, setting bones, amputations, extraction
of teeth and other external procedures were was performed by
*barbers*.  Some advances had been made by this time, including the
discovery that washing ones implements in wine before a procedure kept
incisions from becoming infected, and the use of opium to sedate
patients to allow procedures to be carried out.

By the early 1800s, the quality and availability of dental and medical
care had grown.  Amalgalm fillings had been invented, allowing dental
practitioners to salvage decaying teeth by filling in the holes
instead of extracting them.  Anesthesias such as ether and chloroform
were in use for dental and surgical procedures, allowing doctors to
develop more complex operations to solve internal problems.  Aspirin
was in wide use for the relief of pain.  Modern bristle toothbrushes
were introduced, as was silken dental floss, toothpaste and the early
beginnings of orthodontia as knowledge of how to prevent tooth decay
and disease grew.

Edward Jenner had introduced his smallpox vaccine at the end of the
1700s, and by 1840, vaccination was compulsory throughout Europe. 
Vaccines to combat rabies, diptheria and the plague soon followed, and
inroads were made in research for vaccines to combat polio,
tuberculosis and tetanus as well.   Antiseptics such as carbolic acid
were introduced in the latter part of the century, contributing to a
marked decrease in the number of postoperative infections.  Death
rates from infectious diseases and sepsis plummeted as a greater
understanding of bacteria was gained.  This is not to say that disease
was unheard of - pneumonia was still common and deadly, as were polio
and tuberculosis, but treatments for these diseases were in
experimental stages, bringing with them hope for cure.  Medical care
was more easily accessible, meaning that fewer people died from
treatable illnesses.

Sanitation had greatly improved.  While outdoor privies were still in
use in rural areas, flushing "water closets" began making their
appearances in homes of the well-to-do by the late 1800s.  Running
water was becoming increasingly available, allowing for better
cleanliness and disease prevention.

Food storage methods were also greatly improved.  Canning methods had
been developed which allowed food to be preserved at home, and ice
boxes - precursors to modern mechanical refrigerators - were in wide
use.  Improved storage and preservation methods meant that the diet
could be varied and more well balanced, decreasing the difficulties
caused by malnutrition in earlier centuries.  Food preservation was
still labor intensive, but better preservation meant a decrease in
foodborne illnesses and the complications thereof.

These improvements continued into the 20th century - antibiotics were
discovered and put into use by the 1930s, X-Rays were a useful
diagnostic tool for everything from broken bones to tumors, and
routine immunization came into being to prevent the following:

yellow fever

…and a host of other illnesses.  Immunizations have ensured that very
few instances of these diseases develop, and have helped increase the
average life expectancy from just 50 years to well over 80 years.

Stricter standards of sterilization and sanitation in hospitals have
led to fewer postoperative infections, and thanks to the discoveries
of treatments (including surgeries for some conditions) for diabetes,
heart disease and cancer.  Medical treatment is widely available now,
even to the poorest of our society, and surgical procedures have
advanced to the point of transplants and even microsurgery to repair
severed limbs.  There is also a wide variety of over-the-counter
medication available to self treat stomach upsets, minor aches,
allergies and the symptoms of the common cold, enabling people to feel
better faster when they do find themselves afflicted with a minor
ailment.  Even diarrhea, which was often fatal to youngsters due to
dehydration, is now quickly and easily treatable.

Commercial food preservation and mechanical refrigeration have greatly
reduced instances of illnesses due to food spoilage and have also
allowed for increasing convenience.  Rather than having to replace
one’s block of ice every day and go to the market daily or every two
days, it’s now possible to stock one’s refrigerator, freezer and
pantry such that one needn’t go to the grocery store for a week or

Illness and disease have not been thoroughly eradicated, but have been
brought well under control by advances in medical technology.  Even
cancer need not be fatal, attributable in large part to advanced
surgical techniques, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 
Anesthetics and analgesics ensure that even the most difficult of
operations can be carried out with only minimal discomfort to the
patient.  There is a greater emphasis on disease prevention, which,
combined with better treatments, has ensured that we are able to live
longer, healthier lives than our predecessors.


I used the following sources for this follow-up:

Medicine Through Time

Mummies' Secret: Ills Not All Columbus' Fault
By William Mullen, Chicago Tribune

Paleopathological Puzzles:  Researchers unearth ancient medical

Disease in the Middle Ages

Medicine in the Middle Ages

The history of medicine

The History of Epileptology

Sickly Cures of the Middle Ages

The History of Medicine

The History of Plumbing (Covers from Babylon to present day)

History of Vaccines

History of Anesthesia

History of Anesthesiology and Training



Refrigeration History

Facts About Plague


If I can be of further assistance, please do let me know.  I will be
happy to continue until you have exactly what you want. The scope of
the information available is vast, I hope I’ve done it justice.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on this project - I learned quite a
lot in the process of researching this for you!

qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $100.00
Hi Missy,
Sorry it took a couple of days to get back to you. Thank you very much
for the extra effort, this gives me a lot to work with!
Thanks again,

Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: probonopublico-ga on 08 Apr 2003 02:39 PDT
Fascinating stuff...

I've only glanced at it so far, but I know I am going to enjoy.

Silly me, when I first saw the Subject, I thought it was going to be
about the tv programme (sic). (Yes that's how we really do spell such
programmmes where I live.)

Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: anlon-ga on 08 Apr 2003 09:41 PDT
ObNitpick: Up until "modern" manufacturing methods (say, early 20s or
so, but don't quote me on that!!), ALL soap was "lye" soap.  Yes, lye,
the same thing you buy in the grocery or hardware store to put down
your drains to unclog them.  Lye was produced by processing
ashes--preferably of hard, light woods such as maple or ash.  Often,
families would save their fireplace ashes all winter, and do a
once-a-year soap making spree in the spring.  Water would be filtered
through ashes, then boiled to reduce the lye-water solution to
appropriate basic-ness (as opposed to acidity).  It takes a LOT of
ashes and water boiled down to make a decent sized batch of soap, and
it is hard, hot, nasty work.

Most soaps were made of animal fats that had been rendered down into
oils--again, families would save scraps of fat and gristle for this
purpose.  Once the fats were rendered, they would be added to the lye
solution produced from the ashes.  The resulting chemical reaction is
called "saponification"--where fatty acids in the oils are rearranged
by the basic solution of the lye.  Depending on how the lye and fats
were mixed, soaps would be either more or less caustic--not to get too
much into the chemistry, but if the chemical reaction used up all the
oils with extra lye left over, it would be a much harsher soap than if
there was more oils than lye to convert the oils to soap.  I think
it's probably accurate to say that, when people refer to "lye soap"
they mean harsher soaps--where there is extra lye left over after the
soap has been saponified.

Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: pafalafa-ga on 08 Apr 2003 12:31 PDT
Clearly, Google Answers will now have to change its rating system from
a 5-star to a 10-start system!  What an answer, Missy!
Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: journalist-ga on 09 Apr 2003 16:13 PDT
Yowza!!  A fine answer and I'm happily anticipating the additional information!
Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: sian-ga on 12 Apr 2003 18:21 PDT
you've done an absolutely superb job, missy! I especially enjoyed the
info. about ancient Egypt.

it's quite interesting that there were Egyptian physician-priests who
were regarded as incarnations of the god Hapi, or Hap, the animating
spirit of the Nile, self-engendered, who was represented by an
androgynous divinity crowned by a papyrus reed. These
physician-priests were of the Order of Sa-en-ta (lit. "the dweller in
the uttermost parts of the earth"), or the Serpent Sata. Chap. XXIV of
The Egyptian Book of the Dead (Eg. pert em hru, which words have been
variously transl.: "manifested in the light," "coming forth from the
day," "coming forth by day"), contains a series of hekau or "words of
power" (i.e., incantations), which these physician-priests recited in
order to evoke the powers of the Ka, or "double." Interestingly
enough, the hekau were only uttered during the period of the Waxing
Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: missy-ga on 13 Apr 2003 16:22 PDT
Thank you, qpet!

Please do let us know when your book comes out!  You've asked so many
interesting questions here, your book is surely going to be a page

As always, it's a pleasure to work for you.

Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: cynthia-ga on 02 May 2003 15:10 PDT
Wow, I hope Missy comes back to this question now and again, people
are sure to keep commenting. I think this is the answer of the year,

Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: dltallan-ga on 27 Oct 2003 12:17 PST
Just one thing:

In the section on medieval life, I find the following:
"Use of herbs and spices was very common, perhaps to disguise the
flavor of food beginning to spoil (which doubtless contributed to many
cases of food poisoning). "

As a researcher in medieval culinary history, this relates to a pet
peeve of mine. There is an old myth that is very difficult to dispel
about spices (often excesive) being used to cover the taste of spoiled

If you look at any of the modern researchers or writers (Ken Albala,
Maggie Black, P.W. Hammond, Barbara Henisch, Constance Heiatt, Bruno
Laurioux, Terence Scully and C. Anne Wilson, to name a few) this myth
will nowhere be found. But it seems to persist online.

It's common sense that spices would not be so used. Spices were very
expensive. They were generally used most be the rich and poweful (the
poor made do with herbs). Rich and powerful people could afford fresh
meat. If the butcher tried to pass spoiled meat off as fresh, they
wouldn't use rare and valuable spices to cover the taste. They'd get
fresh meat from a different butcher and prosecute the dishonest one
(there are recorded laws against disguising day-old meat as fresh,
with pretty stiff penalties, especially for those who processed it in
things like pies to make the condition more difficult to discern).

Even if they could successfully cover the taste of spoiled meat with
spices, what would be the point. Spices would not prevent the more
dramatic effects of food poisoning that goes along with spoiled meat.

Spoiled meat is more likely to have shown up in the diet of the urban
poor - who lacked the money to buy spices or the gardens to grow

There are much more likely explanations to account for the use of
spices in the cuisine of the wealthy:
- they liked the flavour
- they liked the "conspicuous consumption" of using expensive
- they used spices (hot and dry) to balance the humours of the other
ingredients and cooking methods to produce a healthy "balanced" meal.

Anyway, off my soapbox. I just didn't want to let this myth pass
unchallenged in a Google Answer and get further enshrined and quoted.

Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: bigsilk-ga on 30 Aug 2004 21:10 PDT
I know this posting's a little old. I was doing some research
regarding urotherapy for ringworm when I found this. Anyhow...

I know that qpet's posting has to do with the value of time and its
passing through, uh, time, but a friend of mine had to write a paper
for college once having to do with how we today might have a different
valuation of the same day. The premise of her paper had to do with
people who are, in some way, challenged to some great extent. She
interviewed a paraplegic. What may take us, say, half an hour (getting
showered and dressed before work) took this person three hours. To
this same person, though, waiting an hour in line at the bank was
nothing. Of course, if it took me three hours to take a shower and get
dressed, then an hour wait in line might not seem all that long...
Subject: Re: 24 hours
From: probonopublico-ga on 30 Aug 2004 21:46 PDT
Hi Bigsilk

I would never have thought of that.

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