New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled. Over the past 100 years, says one researcher, Robert W. Fogel of the University of Chicago, humans in the industrialized world have undergone "a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth."
The difference does not involve changes in genes, as far as is known, but changes in the human form. It shows up in several ways, from those that are well known and almost taken for granted, like greater heights and longer lives, to ones that are emerging only from comparisons of health records.
The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments like heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 to 25 years later than they used to. There is also less disability among older people today, according to a federal study that directly measures it. And that is not just because medical treatments like cataract surgery keep people functioning. Human bodies are simply not breaking down the way they did before.
I always found it fascinating in the Art Institute of Chicago that the suits of armor were too small to fit most people I know... and those were built for the heroes of the age! (Well, that and the fact that the swords were really cool...) Another thing I always wondered: if we're so much bigger now than they were, are we proportionally stronger as well? I find it an amusing possibility that some average schmo, if transplanted into the Middle Ages, could possibly be the mightiest knight they'd ever seen, simply by virtue of a nutritious early diet.