Manthropology: T8 could beat Usain Bolt

January 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm 10 comments

(I had part of this post sitting in the “draft” bin since October, and was reminded of it when the the always-thoughtful and incredibly well-read Josh Leeger commented on my most recent note about the future of human speed. Thanks, Josh, for reminding me of the book and for passing along the linked articles.)

If the title of Peter McAllister’s new book doesn’t pique your curiosity, its first sentence will provoke you. In Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male, endearing himself to the reader is the last thing on McAllister’s agenda:

“If you’re reading this, then you—or the male you 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.”

From the Reuters article, “Modern man a wimp says anthropologist“:

Delving into a wide range of source material McAllister finds evidence he believes proves that modern man is inferior to his predecessors in, among other fields, the basic Olympic athletics disciplines of running and jumping.

An analysis of the footsteps of [an Australian aboriginal from 20,000 years ago], dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge. [World record holder Usain] Bolt, by comparison, reached a top speed of 42 kph during his then world 100 meters record of 9.69 seconds at last year’s Beijing Olympics. With modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.

Turning to the high jump, McAllister said photographs taken by a German anthropologist showed young men jumping heights of up to 2.52 meters in the early years of last century. “It was an initiation ritual, everybody had to do it. They had to be able to jump their own height to progress to manhood,” he said.

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 [former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold] Schwarzenegger’s bulk at his peak in the 1970s. And because she had a much shorter lower arm, she would easily beat him in an arm wrestle

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?

“The human body is very plastic and it responds to stress. We have lost 40 percent of the shafts of our long bones because we have much less of a muscular load placed upon them these days. 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.”

Josh passed along two great articles from the Journal of Human Evolution that were referenced in McAllister’s Manthropology:

  • “Pleistocene human footprints from the Willandra Lakes, southeastern Australia” by Steve Webb, Matthew L. Cupper, and Richard Robins. Available online or as a PDF download. Abstact: Human and other hominid fossil footprints provide rare but important insights into anatomy and behavior. Here we report recently discovered fossil trackways of human footprints from the Willandra Lakes region of western New South Wales, Australia. Optically dated to between 19–23 ka and consisting of at least 124 prints, the trackways form the largest collection of Pleistocene human footprints in the world. The prints were made by adults, adolescents, and children traversing the moist surface of an ephemeral soak. This site offers a unique glimpse of humans living in the arid inland of Australia at the height of the last glacial period.
  • “Further research of the Willandra Lakes fossil footprint site, southeastern Australia” by Steve Webb. Available online or as a PDF download. Abstract: This paper presents further results from continuing research on a large fossil human footprint site dated to between 23–19 ka and located in the Willandra World Heritage Area, western New South Wales, Australia. It follows publication of initial investigations undertaken in 2003–2004 (S. Webb, M.L. Cupper and R. Robins, Pleistocene human footprints from Willandra Lakes, southeastern Australia, J. Hum. Evol. 50 (2006), pp. 405–413). That paper described the discovery of 123 adult and juvenile footprints, including eight individual trackways across a paleowetland close to one of a series of fossil lakes. Here I report the discovery of additional trackways and other marks from further excavation. The work has broadened our understanding of the activities of Ice Age groups inhabiting the region, as well as the environment in which they lived.

(Josh Leeger briefly reviewed Manthropology here.)

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The future of human speed: As fast as a pronghorn Hungry for Jobs

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jimbus  |  February 9, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Bolt is great! He is a demiGod, faster than flash gordon, really a living legendary hero.

    Reply
  • 2. Ozoneocean  |  August 23, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Maybe we’re not as strong or fast, but we certainly love longe in general and have easier lives. :)

    Reply
  • 3. David  |  October 6, 2011 at 1:09 am

    It doesn’t suprise me to hear that Australian Aboriginals had greater physical attributes than other humans. They had a greater ubderstanding of the importance of the environmet to their own survival than other than humans and managed to produce the most efficient hunting weapons on earth without creating explosives. The Boomerang is a perfect example, a weapon that follows a different trajectory depending on which way up it is when throw. One way was to follow the flight path of native Ducks which always rise and turn left first the other way was for Parrotts which always turn right first and, if the hunter missed the weapon came back to him. The worlds greatest scientist have still not been able to imitate a weapon of such efficiency. Maybe it’s because the Australians aren’t descended from monkeys like other humans are?

    Reply
    • 4. Tom  |  June 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      “Maybe it’s because the Australians aren’t descended from monkeys like other humans are” this is not true, we are not descended from monkey’s but we share a common ancestor CHLCA which was around 5-7 million years ago which all humans (including Australians) are descended from

      Reply
    • 5. Joey  |  August 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      Talk sense man, 30 years ago those scientists sent 5 tonnes of metal 238,855 miles to the moon and back in 8 days with a pocket calculator as the onboard computer. And you’ve sent your message out to potentially over 2,000,000,000 people worldwide in a fraction of a second with modern technology. Oh look, I’ve just done the same. Gee, if only they’d invented stick with amusing aerodynamic properties though…

      Reply
  • 6. Reviews « Antonio Cansinos MyPhD  |  January 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    [...] Mantropologhy [...]

    Reply
  • 7. dogging  |  April 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I am truly thankful to the holder of this site who has shared this fantastic post at at this time.

    Reply
  • 8. caravanserai230  |  May 29, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Amazing stuff! Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  • 9. Shamus  |  April 4, 2014 at 6:49 am

    These examples are only a drop in the ocean of what pre-modern humans were capable of physically and perhaps mentally as well. In earlier times people had to be exceptional at everything they did in order to survive without the benefit of modern conveniences. Knowledge was highly prized because it wasn’t always available in writing so bright people with amazing memories were often looked upon with awe by their communities. Legends about super-human runners, hunters, fighters, etc. which are found everywhere reflect the ideals to which ancient humans aspired. Often these ‘super-human’ feats are mirrored by practises that anthropologist have recorded among pre-industrial tribes. Anyone familiar with mythology who reads about tribal people will be struck by these similarities. For example the Fianna (a legendary warrior-band of ancient Ireland based upon actual cultural groups of that era) were said to accept no-one into their ranks who could not leap over a branch their own height. This sounds a lot like the example given of the young men performing their initiation feat recorded by the German anthropologist last century. I once read that an Australian Aboriginal resistance fighter during the colonial period named Pemulwuy could throw his spear with his foot. This struck me because I’m Irish and we have a legendary hero named Cuchulainn who could also throw his spear this way. I always thought he was pure myth but after reading about Pemulway I’m not so sure. Both were unusual in appearance and exceptional warriors able to perform feats that others found impossible. Incidentally, I only came across Pemulway because some escaped Irish convicts are believed to have joined him and fought alongside him.

    Reply
  • 10. Ian  |  April 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    the original paper that did this investigation said t8 was at 20 km hr

    how has this all changed to 38 km hr with no referances

    bond university fossil footprints in greater willdandra lakes area from pleistocene era

    Reply

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More


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