First it was Fight Club, then the rise of mixed-martial arts, then the Paleo lifestyle, and now books like Sex At Dawn and my most recent read, Manthropology. Mix in the rise of CrossFit and Gym Jones and I get the picture that we as a culture may just be tiring of our modern and considerably weaker life-style in which a long run in the park our an hour at the local health club is considered a real workout.
According to Manthropolgy’s author, Peter McAllister, we have been blinded by our version of history in which we told ourselves that, thanks to technology and science, we are healthier than any of our predecessors.; living longer and supposedly happier lives.
In fact, while average life spans have increased since the beginning of the modern age, that is more an improvement of the high-stress and mortality of life from the time of industrialization and the growth of dense urban living, than it is a real rise in life expectancy since per-historic times.
Our ancestors before then lived well into their 70’s and 80’s and did so in a more healthy way. Ancient soldiers fought in battles well into their 60’s and even 70’s, while people in societies everywhere were generally stronger and tougher than even athletes of today. Studies of pre-historic bones showed considerably thicker density than similarly-aged people now.
Past scientists had compared those bones to modern people (by comparing their density with the assumption that the brittleness and early disease of modern man was natural to all people in all times) and so assumed that pre-historic man only lived to 40 while. In fact, the high-protein, high-cardio, and low-stress life of hunter-gatherers allowed for them to live healthier and longer functional lives.
Manthropology walks us through the records of ancient athletes and warriors who out-marched and out-fought our champions of today. Case in point, the US Army fitness test requires that soldiers be able to to march 12 miles in 4 hours with a pack weighing just 40 pounds. Well, Roman soldiers routinely marched 20-30 miles per day with packs weighing close to 100 pounds because each man was also supposed to carry the pieces of their wooden palisades that they had to put together after the march.
The imperial soldiers of the Wu dynasty in China were required to maintain their fitness levels to allow them to quick-march 80 miles per day as well be ready to fight at the end of the march. The same was true of Zulu warriors who had the added skill of doing the same as their Wu counterparts but barefoot!
McAllister goes on to write that these levels of excellence also existed in ancient realms of singing and poetry. As late as this century, there existed bards in the former Yugoslavia who were able to recite 65,000-line ballads as well as create equally-large ballads on the fly. In contrast, modern rap artists generally average 5,000 lines. The Greek poet Homer’s massive oral rendition of the Illiad and the Odyssey put everyone to shame.
The author, who writes in a fun style that makes the book a great quick read, does not say that we should despair. Rather, this is a call-to-arms for men and women to take back their health and happiness by creating a more challenging environment and bring forth all that lies within, dormant and waiting.