Human devolution

An anthropologist has documented a remarkable physical decline in modern man:

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.” . . .

His conclusions about the speed of Australian aboriginals 20,000 years ago are based on a set of footprints, preserved in a fossilized claypan lake bed, of six men chasing prey. An analysis of the footsteps of one of the men, dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge. 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.

In an interview in the English university town of Cambridge where he was temporarily resident, McAllister said that, with modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.

“We can assume they are running close to their maximum if they are chasing an animal,” he said.

“But if they can do that speed of 37 kph on very soft ground I suspect there is a strong chance they would have outdone Usain Bolt if they had all the advantages that he does.

“We can tell that T8 is accelerating toward the end of his tracks.” . . .

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.

“It was something they did all the time and they lived very active lives from a very early age. They developed very phenomenal abilities in jumping. They were jumping from boyhood onwards to prove themselves.”

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).

Of course, modern man does not need to be so physical, with our technology, tools, and conveniences. We might think that our development instead has been in our minds. We certainly have an accumulation of great technological blessings, which inventors and engineers make available to the rest of us. And yet our technology, tools, and conveniences arguably mean that we likewise do not have to use our minds to the level that we once did. I think of what Luther said in his call to town councilmen to open Christian schools. In his praise of the liberal arts and classical education, he said that if we could roll up all of the monks, priests, and bishops together, they would not match up to the educational level achieved by one Roman soldier. And no one today would want to get into a fight with one.


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