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I wonder about the life-styles of the inhabitants of ancient civilizations. As a particular case, if we consider the era of Sumer, what are the significant diversities compared to rural life today?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

According to historian A. Roger Ekirch's At Day's Close, peoples in pre-industrial societies actually went to bed as soon at it was too dark to work, and slept (and still do sleep in such areas today) in two fourish-hour phases, interrupted by a short period of activity. He found numerous references to this in literature, from Medieval literature to Homer. However, the electric lighting available to modern industrialized societies resulted in people staying active after dark, and thus needing to skip the middle activity period to make up for it.

Ekirch argues that these days we have become so used to an uninterrupted 6-8 hour sleep that we have trouble translating the concepts of "first sleep" and "second sleep" from older literature (hiding the fact that they existed), and those who wake up for a while in the middle of the night often think they have some kind of disorder.

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Is this ides widely accepted or is it considered controversial? – Felix Goldberg Jan 4 '13 at 15:09
I fail to see how this makes any sense in a civilisation without electricity... – o0'. Jan 4 '13 at 15:46
@FelixGoldberg - A very good question. Given how surprising this was to me, I figured I'd find some criticisim of it. However all I could find a mention on the linked wikipedia page that some other historians support this, including Craig Koslofsky, who has his own book on the subject. The only criticisims I could find of his book were stylistic. In fact, one criticsim I found from a self-proclaimed Historian was that there wasn't really anything in there he didn't already know. – T.E.D. Jan 4 '13 at 15:54
electric lighting resulted in people staying active after dark, it was too dark to work, and slept What about using firelight? Firelight is not suitable for industry and field jobs, but craftsmen and peasants could stay effective after sunset. Am I understanding this correctly? – default locale Jan 8 '13 at 8:30
Ekirch's book is a fascinating read, and it also goes e.g. into people working (e.g. women spinning) at night during per-industrial times. For what I remember, the argument about segmented sleep appears locally in one chapter and is mainly based on linguistic evidence from England, Italy, France, and Spain plus in Latin. Ekirch also considers whether the practice may have to do with Christian monasticism. For what I remember, he does not address Sumer, although the argument as such would seem to make sense there as well. – Drux Jan 10 '13 at 17:50

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