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10 Reasons You Wouldn’t Survive Ancient Times

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Life back then kind of sucked. For this list, we’ll be looking at reasons why we probably wouldn’t survive if transported back into the pre-modern era. WatchMojo counts down the 10 Reasons You Wouldn’t Survive Ancient Times.
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Script written by Nathan Sharp

10 Reasons You Wouldn’t Survive Ancient Times


Life back then kind of sucked. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re discussing 10 reasons you wouldn’t survive ancient times.

For this list, we’ll be looking at reasons why we probably wouldn’t survive if transported back into the pre-modern era. For the purposes of this list, we’ll be defining “ancient times” as anything up to and including the Medieval period.

#10: The Black Death

Yes, we realize that this is an extremely specific example, but it is something we need to consider. If you found yourself dropped off in Europe between the late 1340s and early 1350s, curse the mysterious force that brought you there… because you’d likely be a goner. The Plague swept through Europe and Asia in the mid-14th century, killing up to 200 million people, and 60% of Europe’s entire population. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and was spread by Oriental rat fleas. Everyone, including we modern humans, would struggle to dodge the Black Death in 14th century Eurasia. There’s no amount of centuries-old immunity that could save you from that one.

#9: Our Modern Intelligence Would Get Us into Trouble

If you’re currently thinking “I’d be alright, I’ve got smarts on my side!” then think again. Good luck explaining human evolution and the Big Bang to your ancient-time brethren down the pub. In fact, striking up any kind of conversation could prove problematic. While we might assume that our modern knowledge would impress everyone and have them bowing at our feet, praising us as some all-knowing god, it’s more likely that it’d get us into trouble. Should you start chatting about televisions, airplanes or microwaves, you’d likely be labelled a heretic or some sort of witch. Just ask anyone from Medieval times who challenged the status quo with unconventional thought.

#8: A Lack of Sleep

Nowadays, we tend to complain if we get less than eight hours of sleep. God help those in the vicinity of a new parent. But back in the day – WAY back in the day – it was totally normal to go for longer stretches without shut-eye. Early hunter-gatherers probably spent less time sleeping, and woke more often in the night, perhaps because of the vulnerable position that sleep placed them in. In general, our pre-agricultural existence required more attention and alertness. If we found ourselves suddenly transported back in time, we’d need to cut down on our Z’s. If youdidn’t, you’d either be a lazy liability or tiger lunch.

#7: Lacking Fundamental Senses

Not many of us can boast having 20/20 vision or perfect hearing, and hundreds of millions of people require some sort of devices to aid with these reduced senses. There are some studies to suggest that our senses have weakened over time, mostly because we don’t need to rely on them quite as much as we did in the wild. But without glasses, or contacts, and hearing aids, our most fundamental senses might fall well short of what’s required for survival. You can’t do much against a potential animal attack if all you see is an indistinct blur.

#6: Our Smaller Brains

Believe it or not, but our brains are smaller than they were 30,000 years ago. Experts estimate that we’ve lost about 150 cubic centimetres of brain - about the size of a tennis ball. Some researchers suggest that the relative safety of modern life has diminished our survival instincts – resulting in a gradual reduction of brain size. Others argue that our brains have evolved to make us less primal and predatorial, allowing us to communicate and work together more efficiently. Regardless of the reason, our shrunken brains might be a massive disadvantage in a primordial world.

#5: A Different Diet

Compared to our distant forebears, we consume meat much more often, and as part of ever larger meals. If we found ourselves thrown back in time, we’d have to immediately and radically alter our dietary habits, which could lead to sickness, and perhaps even malnourishment. Given that around 13% of the current world population is obese, it’s clear that we may not be ready, or able, to make such sweeping changes to what we eat. Plus, you can’t really outrun a predator – or move quick enough to catch your own prey – if you’re not fit.

#4: A Lack of Transferable Skills

Many of us today would also suffer from a major lack of transferable skills. While a few people might easily transition to ancient, labor-intensive job markets, others - especially white-collar workers - would find their skill sets rendered pretty pointless. Being a whizz on Microsoft Word or knowing how to code wouldn’t get you anywhere, so despite years of modern education, a lot of us would seriously struggle to find a purpose or a place within a society. Especially given that we’d have a hard time just communicating. This in turn would lead to unemployment and poverty, a lack of housing and food, and therefore an even higher susceptibility to disease and death.

#3: Exposure to the Elements

Humans are biologically able to survive in bleak or extreme conditions but, having adapted to the ease and safety of our modern lifestyles, most of us aren’t exactly highly trained for life in the great outdoors. In hunter-gatherer times, we’d be thrown very far from our comfort zones. And we wouldn’t have long to wisen up. Could you catch and kill your own dinner? Could youdetermine which plants were safe to drink? Could you build a shelter strong and safe enough to sleep under? Could you keep yourself warm in freezing weather? If you’re unsure about any of these questions, you’d probably be in trouble pretty quickly.

#2: The Spread of Disease

The world is a filthy place. Luckily, we have things like antibiotics and industrial cleaners to rid ourselves of dirt and disease. But before these modern conveniences, debilitating diseases ran rampant. Their prevalence was due to a lack of basic hygiene and personal care, not to mention dirty water and human waste. It’s also incredibly easy to get sick from injuries. Without any sort of disinfectant to clean the wound, and without antibiotics to stave off infection, it’s possible that even a relatively minor cut could grow infected enough to kill you. It certainly makes youappreciate the resiliency of our ancestors.

#1: A Total Lack of Modern Medicine

Perhaps the most obvious roadblock would be the total lack of modern medicine. People currently suffering from ailments, like asthmatics and diabetics – amongst many others – would suddenly find themselves without their pills, shots, treatments or devices. Antidepressants would also be non-existent – along with any awareness of mental health conditions. You’d also be at the mercy of various stomach-churning - and thankfully outdated - medical practices, such as using urine as an antiseptic and having a red-hot iron stuck up your butt to burn away whatever ails you. Some of us may take medicine for granted, but we’d be praying for its sweet relief if we ever found ourselves transported back in time.

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