When Youth Ruled the Earth

Many paleoanthropologists believe that for most of history it is young people who were in charge. By Michael S. Cummings and Simon Maghakyan.

Alexander the Great, 100 B.C.E. – 100 C.E. marble. Brooklyn Museum/Wiki Commons.

When a teenager named Alexander set out to conquer the world known to his fellow Greeks, contemporaries often lived well into their 40s. But, for the millions of years before Alexander the Great, it is likely that most humans and their ancestors did not live beyond their teens. Like Alexander, our youth-ancestors ruled the Earth – securing and sharing resources, protecting their groups, seeking power, cooking food and pursuing pleasure. Starting about 2.6 million years ago, they created tools, social organisations, then languages and eventually cultures. They worshipped and fought nature, surviving near extinction. As they developed skills to jump-start civilisation, our young ancestors, in their teens and early twenties, were also able to extend the average lifespan.

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