Heights Across the Last 2000 Years in England

Jan 2017 | 151

Authors: Gregori Galofré-Vilà, Andrew Hinde, Aravinda Guntupalli


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

Keywords: Health, Height, England, Skeletal remains

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