You've probably never heard of Giacobbe Cervetto, I hadn't until I started looking. So here's some basic info. He was a half Jewish and half Italian immigrant, a cellist and composer. He owned a musical instruments shop in London.
What's really interesting is that he was 101 when he died. Born in 1682 and died in 1783. Now while I'm hoping you'll also find that really interesting, I'll agree it's hardly remarkable. However, it's worth rembering that back then life expectancy was just 47 years, so you have to ask, how did he get to live so long? What was his secret? Now for the anwser that question you first you need to know why life expectancy was so pants back in his day.
It wasn't easy staying alive, I mean, it was a full time occupation in the 17th century. For example sanitation was non-existent, your shit could be seen literally running down the middle of the high street. Health care was also non exsistant and if you could afford to see a doctor he'd just drain some blood using a leach in the hope he'd extracted the 'bad humours'. Personal hygiene had yet to be invented. If you had more than two baths a year you were considered a heath nut. Food was pretty basic, no one had heard of five a day and in London there were more rats than people. Rags soaked in pitch would be hung over the windows of the Houses of Parliament to keep out the rotting stench of the Thames. It was all pretty grim.
So how come this guy got to live so long? I started looking. I wanted to see if there was anything special about this dude. Had he found the elixir of life? Was he sacrificing the odd virgin in his basement and drinking their blood? Turns out he hadn't, he was just a regular musician. But in reserching him I discoved something odd: many musicians, born around the same time, all lived happy long lives. In fact the average age of over seventy of them, at death, was seventy seven. (see list below)
That struck me as weird. Documented life expectancy was 47 so how did these guys defy all predictions? Something was askew and I wanted to find out what it was. Surprisingly it all turned out to be an accounting error. Let me explain.
The way life expectancy figures are calculated, even to this day, are flawed. You see back in Giacobbe's day what totally buggered up the sums was infant mortality. Back then you had a one in four chance of surviving childhood. With so many little kids dying early this affected the average age at death dramatically, which is all life expectancy figures are based on. So when experts tell us we're all living longer, it's not 100% true. They're simply working on the average age when people die. Which, as can be seen, is as misleading now as was in Giacobbe's day.
If you really want to see how we are progressing in terms of life expectancy you need to look at a whole different set of figures. You need to discount all those people who die prematurely. i.e. before old age whisked them away. Look at mortality rates for say, the over sixties. What's the average age, at death, of people then? because this would be a far better indicator of life expectancy. If you do, you'll see that Giacobbe and seventy of his fellow musicians actually lived no shorter lives than we do now, if fact they lived a year or two longer. Okay, granted the mortality of seventy musicians born around the turn of the 18th century isn't proof, it's not scientific, but it rasies questions in the whole 'you're all living longer debate'
Today we have access to low fat, low sodium, high fibre, gluten free, vitamin enhanced foods. We know what a good diet is opposed to a bad one. We have 24/7 access to miraculous medicines. Our shit is whisked away under our streets and clean water is pumped into our homes 24/7. We have medical technology that would have amazed our grandparents let alone Giacobbe. We're also being constantly educated about our weight, our health, our food and all being told to exercise more, and yet we don't actually see any big increase, over the last 300 years at least, in real life expectancy.
The Bible said three score years and ten. Little has changed. My advice is don't believe the propaganda.
Average age at death 77.3
Johann Nicolaus Bach (1669-1753) 84
This is the complete list up to 1700. I've not edited it. Sources Wikipedia: Local Histories by Tim Lambert .