Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Friday, 9 November 2012

Samara trip photos

heidelbergensis woman
The museum at Samara had a superb display of neanderthal and sapiens tools, with some top quality artwork, French interpretations and visitor centres are always top class, I really loved the pictures that accompanied this exhibition, they were incredibly provoking and evocative.

 The exhibit featured a neanderthal and cro-magnon skulls surrounded by some examples of their tools. There were certainly a greater variety of both tools and materials used by H.sapiens but the standard of craftsmanship was incredible for both.

look at the handaxe left of neanderthal!

 For some dark Internet god reason I can't use my close ups of the tools but I do however have a rather good picture of an H.sapiens hunting reindeer......

first contact

I absolutely love the above picture, you get a real sense of mutual respect between the two.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Paleo things that bug me

  I came to eating what I call an evolutionary diet through my life's study of hunter gatherer societies both prehistorical and contemporary. I always had something of contempt for those who endlessly fussed over what they ate, and indeed living in two rather trendy cities as a young man had plenty of exposure to rawists, seed eaters, vegans etc. I always saw exercise as the most important aspect of health and whenever I have needed to shift weight I just exercised iron will and ate rice and tomatoes 'til it was gone. My experience of the overweight and obese particularly those who couldn't shift their weight as that they were always sneaking chocolate bars and buns etc.
 My contempt for the food nuts has mellowed somewhat after I experienced what can only be called "dad gut". Which is a strange and inexplicable thickening around the middle which no amount of healthy (I never considered bread to be healthy) eating or extra exercise could shift. I was constantly surprised when I saw photos of myself and whenever I increased my weekly running mileage I was shocked how much extra work I had to do for little weight loss. I was always sympathetic to the idea that grains weren't healthy and it was easy to jettison them when I left full time employment in agriculture. I changed my diet at that point as I realised I would not be as active as I had been, my new daughter also meant that I was concentrating on what foods were or weren't healthy.
 To my surprise (and annoyance) I noticed that a few nagging problems disappeared almost overnight including a rather unpleasant persistent heartburn. Eating according to my knowledge of evolution and yes, avoiding large amounts of carbs made me healthier.  The blogs and books are really interesting but I sort of feel that I "got it" all a while ago and there is pretty much nothing left to say, the movement will still be useful as long as conventional wisdom continues to mislead people and be generally not very effective.
A scientific paleo movement is providing a reasonable alternative to the conventional wisdom, however save a few examples I find it hard to differentiate many of the different takes on the "paleo diet" from alot of the seedies, raw milkies and fruities. At first glance the paleo diet makes a great deal of sense but quickly  descends into "eat lots of different coloured vegetables" and other antioxidant-loaded semi-science.
 Terry Wahls mum famously cured her MS by eating according to evolutionary principles, In her TED talk she talks about the high nutrient levels in indigenous populations including the Inuit then describes a diet few of them would recognise, especially the Inuit, but even the far less meaty, Kalahari San. Indeed the only real constant between the diverse hunter gatherers and horticulturalists is the absence of large amounts of sugar, vegetable oils and refined flours.
  I have dealt with some of the common counters to a paleo argument in some other post however some of the movements own myths need to be confronted. I don;t really read many of the various blogs but of the few I do I am continually surprised at the general lack of knowledge of the general reader/writer. Even in some of the books I have read on the subject have had some pretty poor reconstructions of life for prehistoric H.sapiens. I am going to do a series of posts on some of the more common misunderstandings and myths current within "paleoworld". Why? well because quite frankly the level of knowledge should be higher and if you are going to base your approach to health on certain assumptions that base should be solid.
 As I see it there are two ways people use the evolutionary principle. One is to look through the archaeological literature, cross referencing with anthropological data and then using this information to establish parameters or strategies which are consistent with what is known of health today, or to use this information to evaluate practises and foods available to modern people. The other method is to invent an evolutionary rationale for a health strategy. This is by far the most common method and is used by fruitarians through to total carnivores, it's pretty useful as it lends a lot of power to an argument while requiring only a little bit of imagination. There is no harm in mild,occasional supposition but I think the inappropriate over~use of the second method is ultimately damaging to the credibility of the paleo-movement.
 I was going to call this post and subsequent posts "Paleo Myths" but what I have found with "myth~busters" is that they want to tear down one myth to erect another in its place.

 Anyway first off: we often read about how tall our paleolithic ancestors were. I always assume we are talking about Paleolithic H.sapiens and we should be as other hominids though close were of course different species. Neanderthal was a short arse but you wouldn't tell them that as they would be able to tear your arms out of their sockets! Anyhow, yes paleolithic humans were tall with individual males topping 180cm though there are shorter examples. Mungo man and the red lady were both 170-174cm.  Heights that would be considered shorter than average today. As I have written before Western Europeans became shorter through the Paleolithic while Eastern Europeans remained tall. In the Mesolithic Western European heights averaged out at 160cm. These were still hunter gatherer peoples though subsistence strategies had changed somewhat, with life becoming more sedentary after the chaos of the "big thaw". There were taller individuals in the Mesolithic but many were far shorter than modern average heights.In Britain at least though there was a marked decline in health there was no decline in height in the meso-neolithic transition, and in marked contrast to Mycenaean Greece heights increased to Paleolithic levels (170cm) in the Bronze age staying there (increasing in fact in Anglo Saxon England) until the 16th century. It is interesting to note that the 16th century marked a great rift in equality in England coupled with some very bad weather (for farmers) in the 17th century Eskimo and polar bears reached Scotland over sea ice!
 Modern Hunter gatherers are almost universally short with average heights for Inuit San and Hadza all coming in around 160cm, this would tally well with Mesolithic European heights and suggests that it is not necessarily a foraging lifestyle that will allow a person to be tall.
The Prairie living native Americans, noted for their height in the 19th century averaged at a Paleolithic 174cm, which raises the possibility that a big game dependent culture will produce taller individuals perhaps through quality or consistency of good quality nutrition. While big game were hunted in Mesolithic Europe the cultures of the time relied on marine resources, perhaps a forest environment also provided greater challenges to the hunters.
 Anyhow the point is......something a strategy or environmental factor changed after the Paleolithic, hunter gatherers are not necessarily taller than agriculturalists now or indeed in prehistory though they are usually healthier. Most Paleolithic people and Plains Indians would be considered short nowadays and Paleolithic statures were achieved (and exceeded) by agricultural Europeans from the Bronze age onwards  Indeed given our use of force multiplying tools (spearthrowers etc) and relative inefficiency of large frames it is tempting to posit that the downward trend in human height being evolutionary rather than environmental. And our current cultural perspective as something of an aberration rather than something hardwired into the human genome.

second green leafy vegetables...........
 The only, ONLY data I can find on any Hunter gatherers eating leafy veg is from Steffanson reporting that the Inuit ate a certain leaf after it had been dipped in oil. Marlowe states emphatically that the Hadza don't eat green vegetables. Nettles are noted from Starr Carr in the British Mesolithic though edible they also provide decent fibres. You can find plenty of evidence of starchy tuber consumption all the way back to the Ice Age (dolni vestonice), and fruit. Of course evidence for leafy vegetation is going to be largely absent from most archaeological sites but  from an economical standpoint leafy vegetables are a total waste of time unless you get something else from them, like fibres or they taste great like ramsons. I'd chew on a linden leaf while out hunting deer but probably wouldn't bother to gather a whole load for the salad. Green leafy vegetables do not fit at all well with the optimal foraging theory (calories in for calories out) that seems to run true for most foragers.  Honestly, if you are eating lots of meat (as Marlowe says) the need for leafy veg is almost non-existent especially if you are eating tubers and fruits. However if you are eating a nutritionally poor (nutritionally damaging) diet such as a neolithic grain based diet the need for such foods increases and they are indeed found in neolithic and later agricultural sites.
 Wild tubers are often lower in calories and starches than cultivated tubers as wild fruits are lower in fructose (as an aside the often used criticism that "modern domesticated animals are a far cry from wild animals" is doubly, triply true for fruit and vegetables but rarely used to warn you off eating them) indeed my wife calls my wild food foraging trips "pointless" as in Britain at least it is very hard to make a meaningful contribution with wild plant foods.  Leafy veg may be a good idea if you want to lower your carb intake or increase your nutrient intake (wild foods are both lower and higher) but there isn't much archaeological or anthropological evidence to base this recommendation on.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tracking course

 In spring I went on a tracking course with Rob and Mel of wilderness 1-2-1. I had practised tracking to a limited sense when I lived abroad and had read some books on the matter. Rob and Mel run a bushcraft company and have been practising their tracking skills for many years. They track missing people for the police in the United Kingdom and have also honed their skills with the Kalahari San.
Bushmen tracking
 We started the day having a general chat about the outdoors and taking a walk through their woods on the Surrey border. We talked about things we found and got into an appropriate frame of mind for being in the woods. You can't just rush around in the woods like we do everywhere else in life and these periods of acclimatisation can take some time, talking to the head of a prestigious survival school some time ago he told me that they can spend days getting clients acclimatised.We pointed out various signs and points of interest, fox squirrels and lots of deer move through the woods and there was quite good sign of stoats by a rabbit warren. Rob told me of some big cat tracks he saw in Sussex! He had been tracking a deer through the woods then noticed the deer had pulled up almost screeching to a halt. On looking for a cause he found the distinctive pugs of a big cat track.....
 We set out on a observation walk where we looked for human made objects, I was disappointed with how I did as this was a pretty hard test based on searching for missing people which is something I have never really considered or practised. Over a cup of tea they taught me the basics of tracking including measuring techniques lost trail drills then we set out to practise following a trail Mel had laid. Man was this difficult! The drills and techniques they taught worked but it is hard to follow someone when when the little doubt demon is niggling away in your head. I managed to follow the trail with some help, and though I was disappointed with myself was consoled with being told that Sussex woodland is a very hard tracking medium and that the techniques they had taught me they had seen the bushmen also use, including the lost trail drill!
 We debriefed and had more tea, they had cake and biscuits. We discussed the fine art of tracking further then moved on to movement and observations skills. This was taught in a very clear manner though we did not practise the skills to the same extent as I use them on a regular basis when shooting.
 Then for the part that can make some people uncomfortable. Blind tracking, finding the next footprints which had been obscured by a bin liner, this worked uncannily well. The we moved on to sinking fingers into Rob's tracks and trying to intuit what he had been feeling as he made them, again uncanny. I found this bit really interesting and maybe its years of meditating on the tops of mountains but was very accurate in both finding the tracks and guessing both Mel and Rob's state of mind.  Some more "left brained" people have been made very upset by this part of the course (which has a high success rate) even down to denying what had just happened. No claims of supernatural or uncanny powers are made we just kind of agreed that it is a bit weird like guessing that the guy behind you is going to cut you up on the roundabout.
 We ended the day with a long walk through the countryside discussing the land there and the creatures in it, some wild food tips and their experiences tracking with the San and for the Police.A great day sent with great people in which I learned an awful lot and more importantly was given skills that I could go off and practise and build on.
40,000 year old foot print
 Tracking is a difficult art practised by nearly all hunter gatherers, in fact to track is to directly participate in perhaps a million or more years of human experience. It involves both hemispheres of the brain and a total and unwavering almost meditative concentration. To track is to be fully human. To learn and develop the skills has enriched my time in the countryside whether hiking, wandering or working and I would thoroughly recommend taking a course in tracking or indeed and bushcraft skill to those interested in learning more about the world around them and their relationship with it.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Old Men of the Ice Age

Lake Mungo footprints
Mungo man was one of Australia's first inhabitants. His people had arrived on the continent via southern Asia some 50,000 years before present (perhaps more). Beyond his first Australian status he is of interest because of the state he was in when he died. His teeth were fairly worn from eating or processing gritty material, while his canines had been removed, perhaps symbolically. His right elbow suffered bad arthritis which the archaeologists put down to him using a spearthrower.
 "Atlatl elbow" is well known to any who have practised a bit too much or too enthusiastically. I noted that the Mesolithic man from Aveline's hole in Somerset also had pre-arthritis in his right arm which could have been to do with using spears though bows had been about for some time then. If mungo man did use a spearthrower  it would set the date of use back some tens of thousands of years. I have long wondered whether the use of hunting weapons would leave traces on the skeletons of ancient hunters which could determine the technology used. Medieval archers are distinguishable from regular medieval folk from their unusually developed shoulders. So far I have not noted any papers dealing with this subject though there is work on H. neanderthal. I would have thought that in North America with its long use of atlatl there might be enough of a sample size to yield meaningful results.
 Mungo man was about 50 at the age of death, again this is an estimate based on wear and tear,  he was also pretty short at about 170cm, I have dealt with the knotty question of age estimates and living populations before but my interest was piqued by a comment made on the "perfect health diet blog".
 Paul Jaminiet asked if there had been any prehistoric hunters who had lived beyond the age of fifty, Even using estimation techniques which may be inaccurate there was a culture of Paleolithic South Indians who boasted many members reaching their sixth and seventh decades.
 One of Europes earliest human sites is at Sungir near Moscow. The site features the magnificent burial of six individuals two men several children and a woman. The site is often cited as the first examples of hierarchy and inherited status. I will get back to these claims. The sungir folk were in pretty good condition living on open tundra we might expect them to be pretty meaty in their diet and the evidence seems to back this up "The relatively wide medullary canal together with macroskelia contributed to a sharp increase of bone marrow cavity. This kind of structure is responsible for the adaptation to such formative factors as hypoxia and high protein level in traditional diets" 
Though they were covered in worked ivory this cannot be taken as evidence of mammoth consumption as mammoth ivory could have been obtained by other means. The cultures of the Ukraine are thought to have utilised found mammoth rather than hunted and evidence for mammoth hunting is pretty slim from this period.Modern Siberians have traditionally used mammoth ivory for hundreds of years. Isotope analysis could provide confirmation of the diet of the Sungir people.  Roughly contemporary burials from Italy and Britain do show that marine animals were a substantial part of the diet though these would be presumably missing from the middle of Russia see this post for potential problems with marine mammoth signatures.

 The male from Sunghir 1 was over 60  when he died he was tall and broad, the children were also well formed. Many Gravettian burials are burials of exceptional people, people with bone problems or extreme physical developments positing some to think that only the special shamans etc were buried. 
 There are clear similarities between the burials throughout Europe in that mammoth ivory special and enigmatic "wands" and plenty of red ochre are used throughout, as is special clothing. There are also some shared symbolic elements.
 So rich are the burials at Sunghir that many think that they represent a "royal family" and demonstrate the first glimmer of hierarchy (and the inevitability of such) in modern H sapiens. The burial at sunghir was used by David Lewis Williams in his book 'Mind in the Cave'  as proof that heirachy is the inevitable state of human kind and indeed a powerful evolutionary advantage. The fact that there is precious little evidence of hierarchy anywhere else in the Paleolithic or indeed Mesolithic and very rare occurrences of hierarchy in extant or observed hunter gatherers I felt undermined (actually, refuted) his case. That he had then built part of a book on this assumption led to me finding it rather hard to read. 
 The sunghir burials are assumed to be wealthy because of the amount of ivory they wore and the time it would have taken to produce the bead work. It all sounds convincing but then that's because we are modern people who have virtually no free time and who take the greater part of each day to meet our basic needs.Many Hunter peoples produce exquisite works of art and indeed as wealth and status are relative I would argue that a context of "ordinary folk" is needed before we can start describing people as wealthy.
King bling
 For example the King (Raedwald) buried at Sutton Hoo in a ship and tons of fancy weapons and gold was buried in far more style than the average wealthy Saxon who was buried with some weapons and other effects and in far, far greater style than poor Saxons who were buried with few possessions. In addition the grave goods represent a range of highly specialised skills that could only be maintained by patronage from a non labouring class. Swords constituted massively skilled workmanship as did armour, gold and jewel work let alone ship building. While the bead work of the Sunghir burials represented a great deal of work in terms of time the technology was not beyond any individual of the society. 
 We view everything through a cultural lens, in a society that has had thousands of years of gross inequality, hierarchies and domination it can seem inconceivable that societies can exist without these features. The gravettian "prince" has no real claim to royalty he was simply named "the Prince" by the archaeologist who described him scientifically.
 There is a ubiquitous tool of uncertain purpose now know as the "baton perce" or pierced baton this is something of a new name as they were known as Baton de commandment until recently, the interpretation being that they were something akin to royal sceptres total speculation but the speculation that stuck. The author Larry Barham in his (very good) book on Cheddar man is continually writing of the search for markers of hierarchy among the Mesolithic graveyards, you often find what you are looking for. Special treatment in terms of more grave goods appears to have been afforded older members of the society but there is no evidence for a kind of "upper class".

 Despite protests from ugly thugs about "alpha males" or hard nosed "realists" about Rosseauian fantasies, "natural" or evolved hierarchy is quite hard to detect in human beings. Marlowe writes that the vagaries of hunting ensure equality in the Hadza while the !kung are famously "ferociously egalitarian". Egalitarianism like sharing and some other less frequently mentioned traits are rather unique among primates. The tribes of the Pacific North West are the most famous of the non-egalitarian hunters. They however live on extraordinarily productive salmon runs which gives them access to the essential ingredients for hierarchy, stored wealth and a sedentarism. To refute the idea that hierarchy is natural to human beings I need to provide examples of a human culture that does not appear to exhibit a hierarchical structure hint; there are loads and they are all hunter gatherers. I would also state that to my knowledge no hierarchy can exist without a stored surplus and sedentism. Now both the surplus and sedentism were potentially present in Scandinavia during the Mesolithic as was some pretty endemic violence but evidence of hierarchy is pretty thin. The rather impressive Gravettian burials could potentially be glimmerings of hierachy or evidence that people had enough free time and resources to dress exceptionally well. Without a context of "peasants" stored resources and, possibly, semi permanent dwellings it seems more parsimonious to believe the latter.
 Given that the Whitehall study and numerous primate studies show a pretty interesting link between hierachy and human health the lack of hierarchy among extant hunter gatherers and paucity of evidence for such in the paleolithic should be of interest to the ancestral health movement. Like war, grains and environmental degradation hierarchy really took off in the neolithic and I feel would it would be justified calling it a Neolithic agent of disease. 


Women and Children

 Sources on request 
A while back I wrote a largely unread post on a certain vegan doctors assertion that there is an overemphasis on meat in hunter gatherer diets due to cultural prejudices. It is interesting that there is the continual assertion from the vegetables that anthropologists are largely concerned with male activities and overly report on the level of animals consumed (no such criticisms are made about honey which is also largely gathered by men). Condemning the  work of an entire scientific field mostly because you don't agree with their finding is , when you think about it,  staggeringly rude, ignorant and even arrogant.

 I have not really noticed any sexist bias in any of the anthropological papers I have ever read and in general both anthropologists and archaeologists show the same cultural biases of their cultural background, in modern times this would be an aversion to sexism/racism, indeed in the archaeology of the paleolithic there does seem to be a conscious desire to distance the discipline form the commonly held beliefs of thuggish meaty cavemen. Given that dietary studies are based on weighed food stuffs and other objective measurements and that anthropology is subject to the same peer review as other scientific disciplines it is hard to see where this bias would either creep in, or not be undermined by the evidence gathered. That, and many anthropologists are women.
Agta woman hunting
 Anyhow if we accept that provision of food is the most important activity a human can be involved in (ie. we take our culture's overwhelming bias that economic activity is the most important activity) the anthropological data still shows that women's provision of calories contains a great deal from animal sources and that lazy,sexist assumptions about gender roles are not appropriate for most hunter gatherer societies.
 In my last post on this subject I mentioned that hunter gatherer women collect eggs, reptiles, invertebrates  small game and birds and will also drive non-human predators off their kills. Women and children also assist in fishing and shellfish collection. None of these sources of food are minor if gathered in quantity and at certain times of the year are major calorie sources. Stephenson and Marlowe both report that baby birds are eaten in prodigious quantities and are a favourite food source.
 Hadza children are famously self sufficient and can provide a large proportion of calories by themselves from an early age, both by hunting and gathering while the Kalahari San don't even start to learn either hunting or gathering until they are adults. Black Elk, the Lakota Sioux talked of both hunting and fishing as a child and the instruction he received. For children at least physicality seems to be a determiner in how much food can be obtained though at least some cultural factor determines if or when a child starts foraging.
 "Mother and Father gone out hunting and leave us kids in camp when we get hunting we go hunting for little lizard get him cook it and eat him up....Soon as mother leaves little ones go hunting, kill animals...morning again father one he go hunting. All little kids go hunting self...mother go separate from father come back with big mob of animals. (Mardu woman from Kukaja community).
Pygmy net hunter child
 The mardu are a great example of how every member of this Aborginal Australian community hunts. Children are undirected by adults and form creches looked after by teenagers, this is an arrangement common to many hunter gatherer societies. Hunting success is dependent on their physical development unlike in adults where it seems to be based on experience and the children average about 400 calories anhour. The Mikea who dwell in a game depleted forest in Madagascar the children can forage a slightly lower 345 calories an hour (males) but youths can manage a much higher rate. This is from predominantly from tubers but both the Mikea and Mardu can provide far more calories than the more opportunistic Hadza children at 85 calories an hour.

 For children, environment, food resources and culture (mardu youths are considered adults for example) seem to be the biggest determiners of foraging success for different cultures. It is hard to cast such information back in time and any discussion of childhood foraging in the meso/palaeolithic can only really be conjecture. The Mammoth steppe of Ice age Europe was analogous to the African Savannah and the big game hunting lifestyle of H sapiens (determined by archaeology and the average height of the population of which more in the future) would suggest a strategy similar to Plains Indians or the Hadza. Indeed the Gravettian "prince" from Italy had been killed by a big cat and there would be a real risk of predation in Europe at that time. The more temperate environment of the later Mesolithic might have afforded more foraging opportunities for children especially given the importance of nuts and shellfish in the North.The greater threat of violence in some areas may well have curtailed foraging activity as it does for Hadza women who have to watch for Masai raping parties.

 Grandparents help with child rearing in many hunter gatherer societies and childcare is a far more communal activity than in our culture. However nursing infants do restrict female foraging, hunting may need a larger amount of physical strength but I would imagine the distances involved in hunting and the relative high risk of the activity make it unsuitable for women with children. However the Agta women in the Philippines actively hunt animals and indeed do so while carrying nursing infants. Moreover in communal hunts such as bison drives women  could and indeed did play a major role. Steffanson describes Inuit women driving reindeer into ambush choke points, this method of hunting reindeer was used in Scandinavia and the Stellmoor site is interpreted as a mass reindeer ambush.
 Further back in the Paleolithic interpretations of H.neanderthal bones from the Combe Grenal site in France show no difference in the paleopathology of the bones or teeth suggesting that women joined in with the rough, tough neanderthal way of hunting. I know of at least two male bodies from prehistory which show hypertrophy and extreme wear of the right arm and it would be interesting to see if any division of labour could be determined through paleopathology.
Rather than a subjugation of women a division of labour resulting in higher maternal care would be beneficial to the species H.sapiens, especially in an environment where big game hunting is of prime importance, and may well give the species an "edge".
meet the wife!
 So we can see that from the anthropology and perhaps archaeology there exists good evidence of female and children "hunting". The notion that modern evolutionary diets are based on an outmoded concept of hunter gatherer life and that in reality hunter gatherers ate a predominantly plant based diet provided by women runs counter to the evidence that...all hunter gatherers eat a considerable amount of meat in many forms even foraging peoples who are essentially refugees (San) or live in areas with hard hunting. Women and children can provide a substantial amount of calories especially in tropical areas many of which are from animal sources.That even if the notion were true it would not validate a vegan or even vegetarian diet as omnivory is irrefutably the human niche and all traditional societies eat animals. Vegetarianism is only possible through agriculture and specific environmental conditions and veganism is very much a product of the industrial world.
  "Sexist" may apply to some people who eat a "paleo" diet however it cannot be applied to the theoretical framework of the diet and to do so shows a major misunderstanding of the available data.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Samara 2012

 I spent a fun weekend throwing spears at one of the "European championships of archery and spearthrowing". This is a year long round of competitions which are held at various sites across much of continental Europe. Samara is in the Somme valley and was a pretty easy trek over by the car tunnel. I have been to some events a few years ago and was glad to finally get back. Samara is a very impressive museum and visitor centre which hosts a great collection of artifacts from the acheulian to the roman periods. It played a role in Caesers' conquest of Gaul and is set in some pretty countryside. The staff of the centre did a fantastic job hosting the event and the food provided (18 Euros for the competition dinner and breakfast) was of a good standard. It has been a while since I have eaten any bread so having a breakfast of...bread was a little odd, fortunately the French aren't rude enough to insult people with margarine and I was able to slather it in butter.
 The competitions are held over two days with the first day being for archery and the second for spearthrowing. The rules about kit are a bit stricter than most and no plastic nocks or metal points are allowed. Given the lightness of most primitive materials this provides a good challenge for making ballistically sound arrows and darts. Not being particularly fussed about the archery Steve and I just attended the spearthrowing Sunday
 The course is based on 10 targets at ranges from 8-26 metres the course is shot three times  for a total of thirty shots. For archery the scores a quite high as the course is not amazingly taxing however some of the throws are more than challenging for a spearthrower.
I'm not refusing to kiss I just "forgot" it is the custom in France
 The course was split into two with the higher part of the park being set at various levels and it involved shots both up and down hill which took some getting used to. We shot the upper section three times and shot the lower section after a break.  The lower section was set in a very handsome park, the targets were more level though there was the obligatory water feature.
 Like many atlatl events, what seems easy on paper turns out to be deceptively hard. I felt like I really didn't throw very well particularly on the upper sections where I contrived to miss the furthest and closest targets every time. I pulled myself together for the lower section where we all started to throw better.
 In great weather we joined a very welcoming group of throwers who I think had come just for the spear section as we had or perhaps they had not camped. There is a great sense of community at these events and it is apparent that their is a great deal of real friendship among the participants which manages at the same time not to be exclusive. Events are pretty short in comparison to the UK and I wonder whether the chatting time and meals contribute to this.
 Being gentlemen Steve and I elected not to show bad form and win and contented ourselves with 2nd and 19th place, which we were both happy with.
 Thanks to all at Samara and to the friendly and welcoming throwers of the championship I very much hope that we will be able to attend more or the events. Thanks also to Steve for the driving and for the questionable French take on McDonalds at the tunnel terminal.
 In the UK we will be throwing the last ISAC of the season this October on the 7th. We are also going to try to put up a few target round the wood, tuition and equipment will be happily provided please contact me for more details.
(I will upload more photos soon)

Thursday, 26 July 2012

love life idiots

  One of my favourite ways to enjoy rabbit is to make a tomato and bacon sauce. It produces a pretty cheap and very tasty meal, Rabbit is so lean that I have found one must add some fatty meat to it to make it taste better and to avoid feeling unsatiated.
ooh watch the salt!
 Anyhow we use tinned tomatoes  for convenience and cost, this is pretty much the only tinned food I eat. The tomatoes from Tesco come in old fashioned metal tins but I have noticed over the past year alot of products are now coming with a plastic sheathed tin. This is the BPA coating that the EU recently banned for use in baby products but that our wonderful NHS has declared safe.
  These tomatoes come from the "upmarket" supermarket Waitrose and part of the execrable "love life" range. You will of course immediately noticed that these tomatoes are marketed as healthy and feature the traffic light system telling customers that this product is "green" so go on stuff your face.  In addition to coming in a toxic can (but presumably as adults we devlop some organ or gland that can deal with BPA unlike when we were babies) these tomatoes have also inexplicably had sugar added to them.....
Yes that actually says SUGAR

This is a pretty much neutral food in the healthy choices section from a pretty decent supermarket...... so tell me why does anyone think that labelling is going to help with obesity epidemic???

Friday, 20 July 2012

sexist hunters

Many thanks to Dr McDougall for giving me a shape for this post, I have a languishing, mostly written piece on the paleolithic non-origins of hierarchy that I can't seem to get into shape to post up.
 I have long been working out a way to present my refutations of two more egregious and widely believed "facts" about Hunter gatherer societies. variations on " actually they eat mostly plants" or "women do most of the work/provide most of the food" or "maybe they should be called "gatherer hunters" etc.
 Here is the small portion I will be working with. it is so dense in assumptions, misunderstandings and if I am feeling generous downright lies that it is all I need to work with;

 “Primates, including humans, have practised hunting and gathering for millions of years. I know of no large populations of primates who have been strict vegans (ate no animal foods at all). However, plants have, with very few exceptions, provided the bulk of the calories for almost all primates. This truth has been unpopular in part because of a well-recognised human trait, sexism. Grandparents, women, and children did the gathering, while men hunted. Glory always goes to the hunters.”

 It is from a piece titled " The Paleo diet is uncivilised" which is at least true. It is quite an unfair article and as I have suspicions about the comments being filtered I won't supply a link.

Lets break this paragraph down it is one of the first paragraphs and is clearly an important one. Later paragraphs talk about meat being disgusting and cannibalism, from a doctor this is pretty shoddy stuff it reads like something a fruitarian would write!.
Primates, including humans, have practised hunting and gathering for millions of years yup that's true I know of no large populations of primates who have been strict vegans (ate no animal foods at all). vegetarian societies are also pretty hard to find the caveat strict is not required he could have written "there are no vegan primates". However, plants have, with very few exceptions, provided the bulk of the calories for almost all primates. yes, what's your point? If we are one of those exceptions (we are) then why would what other primates eat be relevant? It should be noted that McDougall argues strongly that starch consumption is the "natural" and healthiest human diet. Primates do not eat much in the way of starch especially roots.   This truth has been unpopular in part because of a well-recognised human trait, sexism hmmmm Grandparents, women, and children did the gathering, while men hunted. Glory always goes to the hunters.” well at least he admits that hunter gatherers actually became grandparents instead of dying at age 12. 
 The assumptions are; primates eat primarily vegetables  therefore so should we, that we should eat meat OR vegetables, men hunt exclusively and that the gathering of food or economic activity is the activity with the most worth to a society.
 The archaeological evidence is overwhelming that meat played a large part of the diet in our paleolithic ancestors rising to near carnivory in northern people during the ice age. Plant foods are more ephemeral in nature but must have been significant and indeed there is very good evidence for omnivory through all populations of hominids in all environments. While there are some specific examples of grains being utilised quite far back in prehistory it should be noted that the processing materials (huge stones) are rarely found and are considerably more archaeologically visible than bones or arrow heads etc.  In Europe querns are used as the definition of farming sites. Grains may have been consumed by some peoples in some areas but meat was consumed by everyone everywhere. We will never know the proportions of food eaten in the paleolithic, oh wait we will because we have the tooth isotopes which show that meat was at least as important if not more important than plant food, this simple truth is known to anyone who has "survived" on wild plants. Meat is so important to human primates that we have actually evolved to become better at eating it.
 Described hunter gatherers are usually omnivorous even in regions hostile to plant life.In the tropics by volume plants can make up well in excess of 50% of the diet but by calories meat makes up close to half. The proportion of plants drops off as latitude increases. The fluctuation and rather chaotic nature of hunter gatherer life means that actual quantities are hard to obtain but over the year it usually even out that men and women provide about half the calories consumed each. The main difference in productivity is with age, in both hunting and gathering age is the best correlator with foraging success. Duffy reports the old men among the Efe often spend alot of the afternoon hunting alone and are highly successful.
 The idea of the man the hunter is true to an extent in that men tend to hunt in general but in fact women hunt and men gather according to circumstance. Hadza men will gather baobab seeds if they return empty handed while most women with kill or pick up tortoises and other small game, Hadza women gather lots of bird eggs and baby birds. For the Mbuti Pygmies net hunting is conducted by both sexes. A friend of mine witnessed South American Indian women preparing a tortoise for cooking which she described as "harrowing"! Haida women are very active in salmon fishing.
 Women of the Hadza and San will also gang up and drive predators off of kills. The anthropological literature simply does not support a statement that men hunt while women gather though in general this would hold for most cultures.
 But even if it were true how would it be sexist? 

Monday, 2 July 2012

World atlatl day and the Prehistoric archery champs UK

 The howling winds screaming round my house now (2nd of July) will be bringing yet more rain tomorrow in the season we call "summer". However Wakan Tanka obviously loves the fact that we are slowly remembering the old ways of stick and stones (and spears) and granted us good weather for the PAAS (prehistoric archery and atlatl society) Prehistoric archery championship 2012 and World Atlatl day.
Mr Medlock
 World atlatl day was hosted by Steve Medlock in Dawn Wood in Sussex. We assembled an elegantly sized team and were quite happy with the results. The event was held at the same time as some kind of lizard monster celebrated 70 years or so of oppresion and thieving from the British people which kept some folks away.
 The results were;


(from what has been turned in)


New York vs Pennsylvania - New York by default (no show Pa.)
Wyoming vs Texas - Wyoming 193 Texas 84
California vs New York - New York 185X California 184


Ohio 208
Wyoming 193
New York 185X
California 184
United Kingdom 156
Connecticut 141 (did 2 man teams)
Arizona 88X (did 5 man teams)
Texas 84

there are still results to come in but that is not such a bad showing from ol' blighty. You see we can do well (when no-one turns up).
Throw IT!
 There is a nucleus of a northern group of atlatl throwers based in the North West of England if you are interested in throwing contact me directly and I will pass your details on. It would be nice to get two UK teams for next year and have ISACs held in several British locations.
fire by friction at the champs
 The Prehistoric champs was the second time thsi popular event has been held at Magna Cart Field Archers. The atlatl made its usual distracting appearance and proved hugely popular yet again, we left many with the bug much thanks has to go to the fantastic Wayne Wells of New York state who came over to see us. His company was a complete delight and he was instrumental in giving excellent tuition on the atlatl range and being hugely supportive for those who wanted to know more. Food was yet again of the highest quality with plenty of game and assorted evil smelling liquors being passed around in the evening.
 The winners of the archery shoot were Brenda Boulton and Ian Watkins who went home with fantastic hand made (in the good way!) prizes donated by Jutta Stiller and David Sinfield.
 This very popuar event was sold out (again) and will hopefully continue to attract more of the wonderfully relaxed and skilled archers and bowyers present this year. Needless to say there is continued talk of an atlatl course and even contest for next year.

 The next ISAC is planned for the 22nd of July and I believe it is to be held at Dawn Wood. Obviously given that we live in a hurricane we can expect to get no practice in at all! Contact me for details of Northern meets and I will pass your details on.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

boxing and physical culture

broken jaw, cheekbone, and ribs, several teeth
 It is a great regret that I have discovered the "sweet science" so late in life when responsibility and savaged joints and tendons will force me to take it no more than a weekly distraction. If I had known I wouldn't have spent so much time in silly trousers doing feeble useless Kata as a kid.

 I've been reading up a fair bit on the history of exercise and came across some interesting information on the training of pre-war boxers. For many this is the golden age of boxing when literally every young man learned to box and there were very few titles to contend for. If you were heavyweight champion in 1921 you knew you were the best heavy weight fighter in the world, the title actually meant something. Aficionados say that they game was more based on tactics, cunning and skill and has degenerated into a contest of athleticism in recent years.Fights could last along time,even hours if both fighters were defensive minded.
 The physical culture movement was born out of the Victorian insecurity (why do you think they achieved so much?) over their degeneracy.  Industrialisation ,it was recognised by many, was leading to a general poor state of health in the population and a weakening of industrial man.
 Far from being an irrational fear this view would appear to be a valid . Medieval man was taller, more robust and in pretty good shape compared to his industrial successor. The British establishment realised the ravages that had been wrought on the working Briton in the first Boer war when weak and spindly city boys had a really hard time against Dutch farmers. Even in the Second World War British armies marched slower than commonwealth armies.
 Boxing was linked with physical culture from the start influenced as it was by classical sources. George Herbert the spiritual ancestor of the Movnat system and developer of the method naturel (parcours) included fighting as one of the aspects of natural movement.
 Combat sports provide a great synthesis of movement and a great element of pressure and intensity even if they are not taken into the ring, Knowing how to punch hard and fast is no bad thing either. Boxers should be of interest as they have to fuel and perform in gruelling intense activity in which any gap or failure in training is rewarded with a visceral and humiliating defeat, they also have to develop strategies to stay within certain weight boundaries and get the most out of the body they are allowed to have.
  This article says it all
 Old time boxers should be of real interest because  there was a greater and healthier degree of amateurism in the sport (and all sport) at the time, far more intense competition and competitors, less money many of them had jobs and even fought just to eat therefore their nutrition and training were more relevant and approachable for ordinary people.They fought more and more often too.
Harry Greb fought over 300 fights

 Gene Tunney in preparing to fight the heavier "man killer" Jack Dempsey took himself off to become a lumberjack and came back 15 pounds heavier, in the thirties you chopped trees down with axes and saws!  Here's Jack Dempsey on preparing for the rematch;"I disappeared into the hills near Ojai, California, away from everybody and everything, including the telephone. I chopped trees for hours at a stretch, did calisthenics, raced against dogs, jumped rope, carried rocks and climbed trees."Many old time boxers performed  physical labour to build up bulk Most exercise was done outside as were many fights.
Sam Langford regarded as one of the greats
 Fighters trained outside climbed trees, lifted logs swam in lakes   they may look smaller than modern boxers and often they were but there were plenty of big men too, Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson were very large men who would look fine in a ring today.

Flicking through the pages of Fleischer’s terrific little manual, one striking impression is immediate. Everyone is out in the open air. Jack Johnson strengthens his shoulder by carrying a heavy log. Freddie Welsh chops wood. Battling Nelson, typically, clambers up a steep mountain and follows up with a spot of hurdling. Johnny Kilbane plays leapfrog in Central Park. Luis Angel Firpo ‘chins the bar’ whilst hanging from a tree. Dempsey swims in a lake, rows a boat, slugs baseballs and strengthens his arms and abdominal muscles by working a water pump. Abe Attell climbs a tree. Ad Wolgast lifts a heavy trunk to develop his shoulders, arms and thighs. Jim Jeffries strengthens his mighty body still further by wrestling. 

 Jim Jeffries
Boxer's wrestling was justified as building and strenghtening all the muscles needed for all round strength in much the same way as American footballers do pressups, Or as Doug McGuff says in "body by Science"  make your strength training non-specific. Boxers were encouraged to climb trees and leapfrog to enliven roadwork "don't plod attack the road with the verve with which you would attack your opponent"

 Jim Jeffries was something of a latter day superman he could run 100 metres in 10 seconds and leap 6' while carrying a heck of a lot of muscle on a large frame. Jeffries strongly believed that keeping hungry was key “A man can dissipate more and hurt himself more by eating than by drinking,” In training to fight Bob Fitzimmons he says: “For three months, I ate hardly anything. You’d be amazed to know how little a big man really needs to eat and how much stronger a man becomes if he doesn’t eat too much. It’s no joke that people dig their graves with their teeth.

“I would eat two small lamb chops for my dinner, with all the fat trimmed off. That made about two small bites to each chop. I had a little fruit and toast. I had dry toast for months – very little. All through that hard training, I ate as little as I could and drank nothing at all but a little cool water with lemon juice in it.” 

Dempsey, carved out of wood!
  Not heeding his own advice he gained lots of weight when he retired to his farm (he also had problems with drink) but he managed to lose over 100 pounds of fat in order to fight Jack Johnson in a very short time.

 Jack Dempsey also gave the working amateur some advice here

6 A.M. Rise. Drink a cup of hot tea, or a cup of beef broth or chicken broth.

6:30 A.M. Hit the road.

7 A.M. Arrive home. Take a brief sweat-out and shower. Have breakfast of fruit juice, cereal, eggs and milk or tea.

12:30 A.M. Lunch of lettuce and tomato on toast (perhaps with two or three slices of bacon). Glass of milk or cup of tea. If you do not have bacon with the lettuce-tomato sandwich, you can drink a malted milk.

6 P.M Gymnasium. Have a cup of hot tea with lemon before the workout.

7:15 P.M. Workout completed.

7:45 P.M. Home and dinner: half grapefruit or glass of fruit juice or cup of broth. A salad with olive oil and perhaps lemon juice. No vinegar! Meat - anything broiled [grilled] or boiled; nothing fried. Steak, chops or chicken. Stews are good if you need to gain weight. Also, a baked potato, if you need to gain weight. But no pork, veal, lobster, shrimp, crabmeat or starchy foods like spaghetti.
For dessert: stewed fruit, apricots, pears or rhubarb, etc. Also hot tea. No pastries.

8:15 P.M. Relax half an hour.

8:45 P. M. Take a fifteen minute walk.

9 P.M. Bed.

Like everyone pre-1980 from Tolstoy to Ray Davis he took as read the fattening affects of starchy foods.  Pork is also scorned by Fitzimmons I am not sure if this is a hang up from the Victorian idea it was starchy or a manifestation of religious practise (Leviticus) Dempsey in particular seemed to have his head switched on about foods.

"The things I eat in abundance are fresh vegetables and fruits, fresh and stewed. I like both equally well. And fruit and vegetables, plus good water, are the foundation of a healthful diet. Red meats, such as steak, I seldom eat when not in training. When doing my heaviest work I eat steak about twice a week. I go light on fowl; partaking of it only about once in seven days.

"My favourite meat is lamb chops. When other kinds are served me they usually come in the form of boiled dinners, in which they are cooked with many vegetables. Cereals, eggs, cheese and all kinds of salads and ice cream just about make up the remainder of my menu.

Pastries are splendid - to decorate the windows of ... restaurants. But the fellows who decorate their interiors with that stuff are playing with gastronomical dynamite."

 Modern heavy weight Tyson Fury blames his overweight appearance on his liking of popcorn and big cokes when going to the cinema (you read that bit about heavyweights in the past going into seclusion right?) It is something of an interesting comment that top boxers competing for a prize once regarded as being the "Emperor of Masculinity" are struggling not to look fat, indeed it is such a problem that maximum body fat percentages are being discussed in boxing circles.
All we need is a pub car park

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

we sicken you we thicken you

It's raining and I have no books to read. These stories are old but I found them trawling about on the Guardian website. Now it sounds funny and maybe counter intuitive but I absolutely welcome corporate involvement in Government.
In the old days of the cold Eastern bloc dissidents would say " at least we know our news is biased while yours pretends to be objective" and similar. A moderate amount of digging will reveal the unbelievable amount of influence and power that food manufacturers have in the hand of government and policy making. It's got so bad they don't even feel the need to apologise properly "I deeply regret any impression of impropriety"..."impression"??? Or how about this "DR Susan Jebb is the government advisor on obesity SAJ is a member of Scientific Advisory Boards for Coca-Cola, Heinz, PepsiCo, NestlĂ© and Kellogg’s." Susan Jebb through some amazing power of compartmentalisation sees no conflict of interest. Or Kellogs working their sugary magic here. Maybe that's why the NHS says there is no difference between peparami (unilever) and venison or lamb's liver.If only I had a had a peperami for breakfast instead of liver and kidney I would not have exceeded my daily dose of red meat....oh no my colon!
So why on earth would I want more corporate involvement? Because people will finally wake up! If you know, if it is transparently clear, that your governments advice comes straight from independent business interests you will start question it or more likely ignore it and search for alternative sources.
Here is the story and here is the opposition response, two sides of the same shitty coin which is the same on both shitty sides. Here's some great health advice; do the exact opposite of whatever Diane Abott does.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Excuses, excuses

I made the mistake of reading the Guardian newspaper and being rather more involved with mainstream thinking on nutrition this Easter. From the position I now hold on food it is a constant surprise to me to see how far from the "norm" I am and how much of mainstream knowledge is based on total gumpf.
Anyhow in amongst the vegetarian restaurants (we should be vegetarian for eco-political reasons apparently) and recipes for Easter chicken I found this gem...

"There are established studies that argue vegetarians are 50% less likely to contract certain common cancers than carnivores."

Read that to yourself it doesn't actually say anything beyond the fact that humans who eat meat are carnivores! " Established studies, argue , 50%" now to be fair the man who wrote that isn't a vegetarian (any more) but it is an astonishingly weak sentence written by one of Britain's finest cancer doctors. Meat is often associated with cancer which is interesting to me as far as I know it is only linked in epidemiological studies and despite several ward studies no toxic compound has been found in meat itself, a food we have been evovlving to eatin increasing quantities for millions of years . There are ward studies and metabolic pathways for the role of sugar in cancer but naturally everyones favourite food gets an all clear.
You can't avoid cancer in the modern world we are exposed to carcinogens all day every day but you can stack the deck in your favour. Obviously I'm not going to take our wonderful Government's advice.
In Paleopathology at the Origin of Agriculture the authors mentioned the first cancer being detected in a body from the bronze age. Cancer was of course known to the ancients (who named it) and there are pictures of it from the 17th century. Cancer has been around for a long time though at much lower rates than present. Cancer has not been described in any hunter gatherer population and indeed when cancer rates began their dramatic rise in the early 19th century the Inuit among others were studied because of their low cancer rates.
The first excuse is about detection, but this just means that the excuser is ignorant about late stage cancer, google it but be warned it's horrible, then remember that these are people who live by observing nature, they will notice the disease that turns you into a flesh cauliflower.
The second excuse is that cancer is a disease of old age, hunter gatherers died young which explains the lack of cancer in their societies. Acculturated HG people have higher life expectancies and consequently more cancer. This excuse is laid out in this risible BBC article.
As you know gentle reader many hunter gatherers (and horticulturalists who also have low to non-existent cancer rates) live well into their 80's but have a very high incidence of childhood deaths and accidental deaths. The fact is that these populations do have old people no matter how few and that none of them have cancer. Given that cancer affects one in three people we should ,if it is a disease of old age, see people over 65 with some cancer in fact we should see rates at least similar to ours, we don't there is none. Now the article states clearly that 35% of cancer affects those who are younger than 65 so it follows we should see some cancer among younger hunter gatherers but we don't.
So a third of cancers occur in younger people but cancer is a disease of old age but we have populations with no trace of cancer in either young or old but we can discount them because....they have a low mean age at death.
Now I don't have no fancy diploma like you egg heads from back East but if I was told about societies that showed no trace of a medical conditions that directly affects one third of the population I would want to know why. I certainly wouldn't start making excuses and that's what this article is an excuse got in first. Expect to see more.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Exterminator hypothesis

It has taken me a while to work out how to write this piece, I don't really buy the idea that humans had a hand in or were a major cause of the mega faunal mass extinctions at the end of the last Ice Age. I can, however, see the merit in both cases it has therefore been hard to write a damning dismemberment of the "human agent" cause of the mega fauna extinctions at the end of the Ice Age.
The central idea is that humans entering North America encountered mammoths which they then killed and ate in such numbers that either they wiped them out by reducing their numbers to so great an extent that the population became unviable or, in a more moderate version, caused a great stress among the population that led to it being unable to survive environmental shifts. Computer models both prove and disprove the hypothesis which obviously can't be tested for real. There are variants of the theory for Australia and then more recent variants involving island populations being devastated by the arrival of farming peoples.
Like all controversial theories there are believers everywhere and it would appear that the human agent hypothesis is quite well accepted among the general population if not the scientific one. The American and Australian theories both rely on the first peoples arriving on the land mass at or near the time when the mega fauna became extinct. North American archaeology has a fine tradition of people's careers and even lives being ruined as the date for human settlement was put  further and further back into time. Recently DNA evidence from Native Americans has cast the peopling of North America back to the Solutrean some 10-15,000 years earlier than thought.
Archaeologically the first peopling has recently been set back by 800 years with the dating of a dart point embedded in a mastodon bone. Evidence they were hunted, of course, but is it evidence they were hunted to extinction?
"Together, the three sites provide strong evidence for pre-Clovis hunting. "They're incontrovertible," said Waters. "Clearly, people were hunting mammoths and mastodons again and again, playing a part in their ultimate demise." Hunted to extinction over (at least) hundreds and hundreds of years, c'mon.

When predators are introduced to an eco-system there can be considerable turmoil while a balanced state will be achieved this can include massive reductions in some animal populations, increases in others and changes in the flora too. Indeed Elephants are considered to be creators of Savannah environments. Due to the massive rate of tree consumption the loss of mammoths from an ecosystem would cause widespread disruption and even possible extinctions. This gives us a mechanism for the mass extinctions at the end of the Ice Age in North America. If the creator of an ecosystem goes then so does the eco-system the lions, camels, giant sloths, horses etc.
In Australia the mega fauna extinction is co-incident with charcoal deposits left presumably by the first Aborigines to reach the land mass. The list of animals is smaller and their disappearance co-incides with non climate caused changes in vegetation. A later arid spell may have finished many off, but it is thought that the Aborigine practice of setting fires could have changed the environment to the point where the larger animals would have died off. As far as I know there is no evidence of direct predation. Again there are proponents suggesting that climate change caused by glaciation was the cause and that the change in vegetation was because the mega fauna disappeared not the cause of the disappearance.
So there we have the only theory that really makes sense is mass floral eco system disturbance causing a catastrophic disruption  of the whole ecosystem. Large animals are far less resistant to environmental degradation and are the usual candidates for extinction in any mass extinction event. The agent could be either climate change or human predation of animals which create eco-systems. There are numbers of variants of all theories and computer models galore.
It is interesting to me that in Europe at least the idea of climate caused extinctions is not that contentious. Humans co-existed with mega fauna for immense periods of time in the old world, sometimes hunting them (neanderthal) sometimes not (sapiens in W.Europe). There is little evidence of active predation across Eurasia though some evidence of possible consumption in eastern Europe and almost certain consumption (through scavenging) in Siberia. In western Europe at least there is no evidence of mammoth being on the menu with ungulates and other large herding animals being the prey items of choice. Mammoths are supposed to have become extinct through environmental changes at the end of the ice age with late survivals in the UK.
This to me is the main problemflaw in the human agent hypothesis, that mega fauna populations collapsed world wide in areas where there were humans hunting, not hunting or even not being present. I think that the human agent hypothesis is anthropocentric and myopically ethnocentric. I don't mind if you think me romantic or accuse me of having "rose tinted" glasses the evidence ,or lack thereof speaks for itself , there are few if any  hunter gatherer models for animal extinction from modern scientific descriptions or historical accounts. There are plenty, plenty and plenty more from agricultural populations and the industrial revolution has proven a veritable animal holocaust.
This in my view is the central point of the human agent hypothesis, our culture has a long history of hunting animals to destruction. The wolf has hung on by the skin of it's teeth as has the bear, tiger etc. The auroch is long gone as is the Tasmanian wolf, passenger pigeon, and scores of others. The last hundred and fifty to two hundred years saw a massive extirpation of wildlife in the continental United States and this surely has coloured the view of the mega faunal mass extinctions.
Guilt, cultural guilt is,to me, the father of the human agent hypothesis, established,diverse balanced ecosystems utterly destroyed and replaced by a sterile monoculture, moreover it is the cultural guilt over the genocide of the indigenous peoples. The human agent hypothesis is strongest and most emotionally charged in the two countries which saw a systematic,and ruthlessly executed genocide of the indigenous people by the current dominant culture.

"We may have wiped out the passenger pigeon but they killed all the mammoths."

It does not really matter if the paleoindian or the Aborigine or even the Ice Age European did wipe out the mega fauna, I wrote this post as I was really angered by a comment someone had made on a youtube film about Inuit cooking "it's 2012 stop eating animals save the world go vegan". The Inuit lived and live in balance with their environment, life was hard we might not wish to live like that but even with their extraordinary reliance on animal resources the traditional culture was totally sustainable and could have continued in that ecosystem forever. Steffanson was concerned in 1906 that the rifle would destroy them (as it made hunting too easy) but it appears not. The Hadza are not causing the scarcity of game (for which they are blamed) in Tanzania and again could continue to live there forever unlike the onion farmers who are chopping down trees and ploughing up the land. The Indian may have wiped out the mammoth but the land Europeans described when they came to stay and farm was a land of unparallelled natural abundance compared to the man made deserts they had left behind.
This is the story of the human agent hypothesis, like all predators humans may kill beyond their need  and have a dramatic affect on their ecosystem stories of the proto-environmentalism of hunter gatherers never really stand up to scrutiny. The difference is that they do achieve equilibrium, a balance with the ecosystem. The continued rapacious destruction of ecosystems and fauna is the legacy, indeed the need, of agriculture.


Farming hates wildlife, in the UK there was an all out war against the wolf, woods and wastes were burnt and all manner of financial incentives were used to achieve their destruction. The last wolf in the UK was killed in Scotland in about 1746 it took well over 1000 years to do this. The part of the country with the least land under cultivation, wild and barren the Scottish mountains appear to be a veritable Serengeti compared to much of the UK mostly due to the hostility of the land to arable farming. Steffanson put the survival of the boreal north and the Indians there down to its hostility to agricultural. The plains were too fertile so the buffalo and indian had to go. Now the plains are fertilised by petroleum derivatives and the topsoil silts up the rivers, paradise lost.