Primitive Life For Some In 1000

If our planet survives another thousand years, it will be easy to look back and see how humans lived. The archive of 20th century existence will reveal greatness and genius, corrupt passions and mass murder.

It will also reveal a catalog of curiosities and a cornucopia of passing fads. 60 Minutes' Morley Safer gives this report as part of the series on the countdown to 2000.
Cappuccino in endless variety, supermarkets, the joy of cyberspace, and glossy magazines, instructing how to live with style, may not top your list of proud achievements for the millennium but they do tell a good part of the story.

For better or for worse, ours has become a civilization obsessed by self-absorption and ambition of the moment. Few know or care how it all began.

To get the heart of how people lived in the year 1000, you have to visit places like this Anglo-Saxon village near the ancient city of Bury St. Edmunds, in the center of England, now rebuilt, but first settled just more than a thousand years ago, and bring along an expert such as historian Robert Lacey.

"If you met an Anglo Saxon, a man living or a woman living in the year 1000 today, they would be just about our size, which of course isn't what we think," explains Lacey.

"These people are living in villages like this, lots of space," he says. Not "to sentimentalize the risks to health and so on but they live actually pretty healthily,...by our standards very healthy meat, free-range meat, good cholesterol, not bad cholesterol, venison and so on."

This makes life sound pretty good but the fact is it was terrible; it was a fearsome existence.

"It was," Lacey says. "Medically we take so much for granted now. I mean something like childbirth was then a time of terrible risk and anxiety. The Caesarean operation, for example - today quite a common thing. Well, it did exist then, but it sacrificed the woman. They just cut open a flap in the woman's belly and the child was saved and the woman was discarded."

And there were other ailments.

"Half the population is dying by the age of 4 or 5 from all these whooping coughs and diphtherias, cholera....And even if you survived, you might get to the end of your 40s or 50s," Lacey says.

"There's no understanding of germs. There's one account of the Danes at this time bathing five times a year. Well, that was fanaticism for the Anglo Saxons," he says.

Many of early white settlers in America came from this sort of stock.

What's interesting is not very many centuries after the Romans, things descended to primitive levels that the Romans would have scoffed at.

"Certainly in England," says Lacey. "Let's not forget, we're talking about a world where you've got a wonderful civilization in China; you've got the Mayans reaching the peak of their civilization....The Chinese are already using gunpowder."

"The English are pretty bakward. And if you're a betting man in the year 1000, you wouldn't put your money on this culture being the one, which with its language is going to go out and in some ways literally conquer the world."

That is, to be the culture to conquer the world with genius, culture, gadgets and gizmos.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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