How many lifetimes ago? 

clay county histories

Markus Krueger | Program Director  HCSCC

The last article I wrote was about my friend Mel Johnson, who passed away in mid-December at the age of 102. A person of that age is bound to witness a whole lot of human history.  Mel was 7 when the first person flew an airplane non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean (Charles Lindbergh) and 49 when the first person walked on the moon (Neil Armstrong). The life expectancy of us humans has risen steadily over the past centuries, but even in the times when the average person in a particular spot could only expect to live into their 50s, there were always a few of us who reached the age of 102. 

A 102-year-old when Mel was a baby would have been born in 1818. They would share a birth year with Frederick Douglass, Mary Todd Lincoln and Karl Marx. That person would have been 43 when the Civil War began and in their mid-50s when Moorhead and Fargo were established. 

A baby in 1818 would have shared the world with a 102-year-old born in 1716. We are just three lifetimes away from someone who was a senior citizen during the American Revolution. The next lifetime back begins in 1614. They would have been two when Shakespeare died and six when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. 

Hopefully, the person one lifetime back (born 1512) was not born in the Aztec Empire (modern-day central Mexico). That person would have been born into a world of plagues spreading from where the Spanish had first made contact. With no antibodies to fight off European diseases, scholars think somewhere between 5-8 million Americans died of disease in the first years after the Europeans landed. This child would have been nine when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Aztec Empire and enslaved its people to work in the gold and silver mines. At age 33, a second round of disease killed an estimated 80% of the remaining population of their people. In fact, it is very unlikely any Aztecs born in 1512 lived to be 102.  

The sixth 102-year-old before Mel Johnson was born in 1410. They would have been 43 when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople and 94 when Michelangelo unveiled his sculpture David. 

We are only seven lifetimes removed from someone who would have been middle-aged when the Black Plague spread across Eurasia in the 1340s. We are ten lifetimes away from the Viking Age. Fourteen lifetimes from Emperor Charlemagne. Someone living 18 lifetimes ago lived through the fall of the Roman Empire. Our 22nd 102-year-old would have been two when Julius Caesar was assassinated and 70-something when Jesus of Nazareth was executed. Our 25th 102-year-old was a contemporary of Alexander the Great. 

If my arithmetic is correct, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built as little as 48 lifetimes ago. Writing was invented about 3200 BC in Uruk, the world’s first true city, round about 55 lifetimes ago.  

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