Saturday, October 24, 2009
The thrill of history and the agony of the facts
By John Mehaffey
LONDON (Reuters) -
Many prehistoric Australian aboriginals could have outrun world 100 and 200 meters record holder Usain Bolt in modern conditions.
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."
McAllister sets out his stall in the opening sentence of the prologue.
"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."
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.
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).
McAllister said it was difficult to equate the ancient spear with the modern javelin but added: "Given other evidence of Aboriginal man's superb athleticism you'd have to wonder whether they couldn't have taken out every modern javelin event they entered."
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.