Manthropology: T8 could beat Usain Bolt
(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.)