October 26, 2009
Chad Love: Are Modern Hunters Wimps?
By Chad Love
I like to think that I'm a real man. A big, strong manly man. An apex predator and the absolute pinnacle, the crowning achievement of thousands of years of evolutionary progress.
My wife, on the other hand, has always suspected I'm completely delusional, and finally, here's her proof.
MODERN MAN A WIMP SAYS ANTHROPOLOGIST:
LONDON (Reuters) - Many prehistoric Australian aboriginals could have outrun world 100 and 200 meters record holder Usain Bolt in modern conditions.Some Tutsi men in Rwanda exceeded the current world high jump record of 2.45 meters during initiation ceremonies in which they had to jump at least their own height to progress to manhood. Any Neanderthal woman could have beaten former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm wrestle. These and other eye-catching claims are detailed in a book by Australian anthropologist Peter McAllister entitled "Manthropology" and provocatively sub-titled "The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male."
"If you're reading this then you -- or the male you have bought it for -- are the worst man in history. No ifs, no buts -- the worst man, period...As a class we are in fact the sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet."
McAllister said a Neanderthal woman had 10 percent more muscle bulk than modern European man. Trained to capacity she would have reached 90 percent of Schwarzenegger's bulk at his peak in the 1970s. "But because of the quirk of her physiology, with a much shorter lower arm, she would slam him to the table without a problem," he said. Manthropology abounds with other examples:
* Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.
* Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.
* Australian aboriginals threw a hardwood spear 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48).
Why the decline? "We are so inactive these days and have been since the industrial revolution really kicked into gear," McAllister replied. "These people were much more robust than we were..."We are simply not exposed to the same loads or challenges that people were in the ancient past and even in the recent past so our bodies haven't developed. Even the level of training that we do, our elite athletes, doesn't come close to replicating that."
OK, so I can't throw a spear through a mastodon, run about as fast as Jessica Simpson's purse dog and if I tried a pick-up line on the average Neanderthal woman (I had a friend in college who specialized in this) she'd rip my arms out of their sockets.
Being a smartass, my first reaction to this story was, "who cares, that's what centerfire rifles, ATVs and anabolic steroids are for, right?" But the book's premise poses an interesting question: by what yardstick do we measure progress or improvement?
Yes, Neanderthals were rough, tough bad dudes, as were aboriginal hunters, Roman soldiers, Tutsi tribesmen and all of our great-great-grandfathers. And yes, we are all creme-filled pastries in physical comparison. But they were, as we are, a product of the epoch in which they lived. Humans adapt themselves to their surroundings, it's what we do. Times were tough back then, ergo, the people were, too. Modern existence is not nearly as physically difficult (for most of us, anyway), and as a result, neither are we. We also don't have 30-year lifespans or live in caves. Life is a series of trade-offs.
Are our modern trade-offs worth the price they've extracted from us? In the grand scheme of things are we better or poorer for our modern conveniences? I think hunters, by nature of who we are and what we do, struggle with this basic question more than probably any other group. Would you give up your ATV, your tower blind, and your modern scoped rifle in exchange for the skills and prowess possessed by those ancient hunters? Or can you accept that modern hunting, with all its superflous conveniences, is more a reflection of modern society than we sometimes care to admit?