What was It Like to Live as a Commoner in the Medieval Times?

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-25 01:42

Scientists delve into the extraordinary life of an ordinary man who died over 700 years ago in the Medieval times.

We don't know much about commoners and poor people who lived in the Middle Ages. We learn, read, and see more about royalty and nobility, but not as much about the common folk. Recent discoveries, however, paint a picture in which the Medieval times were not all swords and knights and chivalry.

Context 958

Some years ago, archaeologists unearthed a large medieval hospital cemetery for the poor under part of Cambridge University. The bodies were buried between the 13th and 15th century, and they were mostly adults who may have been laborers and impoverished scholars.

One of these individuals was a man that scientists have named Context 958. Judging by his burial place, he was a commoner who had fallen on some hard times before he died. Scientists have now reconstructed his face to gain insight into the lives of the poor who lived during the Medieval times.

Dr. Chris Rynn, a lecturer at the University of Dundee, led the reconstruction efforts by using the same techniques he uses when helping police identify decomposed corpses. Dr. Rynn worked with archaeologists to determine details like the man's skin texture and hair style. DNA analysis, meanwhile, let Dr. Rynn know what the man's eye and hair color were.

Context 958's reconstructed face
[Photo by Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee]

He looks quite pleasant,” says Dr. Rynn of the man. Indeed, he does. The man looks like someone who could be walking the earth right now. He could be a teacher, a nice neighbor, or a little girl's father. It's almost unbelievable that this is the face of a man who lived a hard life hundreds of years ago.

A Hard Medieval Times Life

Though the man may seem like a nice, ordinary guy, forensic evidence shows that he lived a hard life. He may have been homeless, between the age of 40 to 70, when he died. His skeleton had a lot of wear and tear, which indicated that he must have worked quite hard in life.

The researchers say that the man may have been a laborer or a trader of some sort. His diet suggests that he may have had access to food that a poor commoner in the Medieval times would not have access to. He had a meat- and fish-rich diet, which may indicate that he had a job that involved handling these goods.

The man may also have starved or gotten seriously ill twice during his younger years. Researchers found that he stopped growing enamel twice during this time in his life, which pointed to the aforementioned scenarios.

Examinations on his skull also revealed that he had suffered a blow to the back of his head.

In spite of everything he had gone through, however, the man lived to a relatively good age, considering the time period. As scientists analyze more of the people from the same burial site, we may be able to gain more insight into the lives of the poor during the Medieval times.

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