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)

Monday, 9 January 2012


Sources on request
Declaration of interests; being a short arse.
What is driving the modern rise in stature?
The mantra of the Paleo food movement, the mantra of good science, “correlation is not causation”. This mantra is hugely important for a hunting hominid that searches for patterns to make fast, often life or death, decisions. We must bear this in mind………
Every so often some paleo person or health person makes statements which cause me to wince. Statements about “competing for mates” simply leave me shaking my head particularly if the writer means wrestling over women. This is simply an extrapolation from primate behaviour which does not fit in with observed forager behaviours. N.Changon noted combat success did not equate to reproductive success in the horticulturalist Yanomamo. Hunting success can be a factor and is often adjudicated by the “brides” parents. Any talk of Alpha males is particularly inappropriate for humans and is usually a rationalisation for boorish behaviour.
Today however I am going to talk about the notion that Palaeolithic peoples were tall and from the Mesolithic or Neolithic population heights can be characterised by their downward trend until the later 20th century when they have “returned” to their Pre-agricultural levels. (Just to clarify some Palaeolithic hominids were tall and powerful such as H.heidelbergensis and some were short and powerful H .neanderthalensis. H.Sapiens is really who we are interested in and this is who is being discussed). Daniel Vitalis who I think is a wonderfully charismatic speaker and excellent source of knowledge and wisdom talks about a decline citing reduced height brain capacity and muscularity. He says that agricultural and industrial humans are so degenerate that we should be re-classified as H.sapiens domesticus. Though he is right about brain size (some small decrease from European “Cro-Magnon” this is not necessarily a sign of degeneracy as both H.heidelbergensis and neanderthalensis had brains that matched our own and in some cases were bigger but were not necessarily as well co-ordinated. I agree about muscularity though this would seem to be predominantly environmental.
As a quick aside a domesticated animal has been manipulated on a genetic level (via breeding) to produce qualities necessary for the domesticator. I am unaware of any widespread breeding programmes among human populations which by virtue of our slow reproductive rates would need to be on a very long timeframe. Any Genetic changes in human populations have been the result of evolutionary pressure rather than selective breeding; while I have sympathy for the domesticus argument as a rhetorical tool I don’t think that it is a valid assertion. My daughter raised by hunter gatherers would be indistinguishable from them in the way a dog raised by wolves wouldn’t be.
However the changes to a perhaps more gracile, smaller brained and shorter (I’ll get back to this) animal all seem to have occurred within the Palaeolithic. There does appear to be a difference between western and eastern Europeans in that westerners seem to have got shorter. Diet and genetic flow are often used to account for this. I can’t think of any substantial differences in diet between the populations save for possible mammoth exploitation in Poland and the Ukraine
. In the west there is a decline in height in the Mesolithic when for a time life seems to have become more challenging with massive environmental shifts and increasing pressure for land. With generally no increase in population pressure for space may have come from reduced land mass and the possible ‘bow wave’ of the Neolithic. The Mesolithic marks intensification in the shift towards marine resources and possible greater exploitation of plant resources with a richer biomass. Violence and territoriality are also present in some areas, Scandinavia in particular
We could easily posit that the pressures of the Mesolithic were a factor in the reduced height of western Europeans at this time. Mesolithic hunters as a rough rule averaged from 160-170cm but still maintained the general good health of hunting peoples. Heights and characteristics that are shared by modern hunting peoples. Isotopes suggest that, for the early Mesolithic at least, diet remained consistent with the Palaeolithic.
In Britain at least heights did not decline in the Neolithic but actually remained stable, though health declined substantially. Heights rebounded in the Bronze Age with the favourable climate and then moved up and down in sync with the prevailing climates. Farming, though hardly good for one’s health it seems, in Britain at least, is not necessarily bad for one’s height.
The far more intense stratification of society in the East may have suppressed the population’s overall height. Mycenaean nobility (from isotopes, big meat eaters) were a full 10cm taller than the general population who slaved and toiled on grains. Never forget that grains are the food of the slaves.
The hominids formerly known as Cro Magnon averaged from 166-171cm tall this is a little shorter than the “red lady” at 174 but more strongly built, but all these people would be short compared to a modern European or American. DNA shows that modern Europeans (and European Diaspora) share at least 80% of our DNA with these people so we can say that we have not only attained pre agricultural heights but superseded them.
A good thing? Now this is where it gets interesting being tall is generally considered to be a marker of good health. It is so desirable that it is part of our lexicon “stand tall” “high and mighty” my daughter is according to the charts going to be a strapping young lady and I am really happy about this.
Of course you can see the ‘BUT’ coming a mile of. Height correlates very badly with CHD and cancer ratesAll the populations of modern Foragers and horticulturalists who have been found to have no or little heart disease or DoCs (diseases of civilisation) are shorter on average than modern western populations. Most if not all centenarians are shorter in stature study after study has shown that as a populations height increases so does the prevalence of DoC’s. Remember our mantra!
Study after study (China Crete Sweden Japan Fiji and on and on) shows that as height increases so do diseases of civilisation, indeed height is another factor which was ignored or discounted by Ancel Keyes in the “7 countries study”. The famous “good health” of the Norwegians in the war years was accompanied by a decrease in stature for people living then.
Heights haven’t just increased over the past 150 or so years they have exploded upwards they have increased by 10 and more centimetres in many European countries accompanied with increasing CVD deaths.
Male heights 19th century-present
Norway 1.69 m (5 ft 6 12 in)-’ 1.820 m (5 ft 11 12 in)
Sweden 1.68 m (5 ft 6 14 in)- 1.779 m (5 ft 10 in)
Netherlands 1.64 m (5 ft 4 12 in)- 1.799 m (5 ft 11 in)
Scotland 1.68 m (5 ft 6 14 in)- 1.750 m (5 ft 9 in)
Germany 1.64 m (5 ft 4 12 in)- 1.810 m (5 ft 11 12 in) (19 year olds)
England started eating white flour(and sugar)in large quantities far earlier than other countries and the height jump was not so nearly pronounced from 1.72 m (5 ft 7 34 in) to 1.776 m (5 ft 10 in)
Now of course I am not saying that an increase in height causes, well anything and to be frank while I thought this was interesting my jolly old mantra of correlation not= causation was running through my head as many factors have changed at the same time. Until I read from Boyd Eaton that Inuit heights had only increased since the addition of refined flour and sugar into the diet. That addition of western foods into traditional diets causes not only greater Doc prevalence but also increasing heights and then…… . It is interesting to note that, though modern humans have returned to the body stature of their Early Paleolithic ancestors, they retain the modern proportions with short forearms and short crural segments.
So the increase in height is not a return to the proportions of our Paleolithic forebears but an increase in stature perhaps driven by a different agent. Clearly I have not written this to cause anyone sleepless nights or to hopelessly confuse the issue, if it carries any weight I actually believe that CVD and most diseases of the heart are caused by stress then smoking and way…way down the list diet. The Authors of the studies I have linked to show confused data relating to diabetes and height, though the increases in weight and BMI which accompany these increase are markers for this modern problem.
The authors point to IGF (insulin growth factor) as a possible cause for the jumps in human height that accompany adoption of western food. Indeed as HG peoples seem to have no real difficulty attaining decent calorific intakes despite some periods of shortage it is hard to write it off simply as “surplus calories”. Though It may be that grain eating peoples retained their short statures or got shorter due to the calorific and nutritional poverty of the Neolithic/agricultural diet and its attendant periods of growth arresting starvation. While periodic shortage is attested to in HG teeth growth arrest (seen in the long bones) is not commonly seen. A single dietary or macronutrient factor among such populations is hard to point at as we have a range of compositions from 70% fat to 20% and inverse for carbohydrate (almost always tubers and veg). All populations save modern western populations are physically active leaving refined grains as the single or main probable cause.
Diets high in refined carbohydrates have affected pregnant women (who divert glucose to their developing children) Finally, in healthy pregnant women, a high-GI diet is associated with higher birth weight and infant ponderal index than a nutrient-balanced low-GI diet [98]. In this way, epigenetic changes brought about by differences in diet composition during pregnancy could promote acceleration of obesity from one generation to the next” Brand-Miller JC, Griffin HJ, Colagiuri S: The carnivore connection hypothesis: revisited. J Obes 2012, 2012: 258624. It is worth noting that both large and small children have diabetes problems and the children of diabetics have larger than average children.
Height I would think does not influence or cause cardio vascular disease BUT the factors that have caused the increase in this problem may be at the root of the jump in heights that accompany increases in these diseases. I have mostly written this to deal with the repeated claim that our Paleolithic ancestors were tall as or taller than modern Euramericans, which is, from the fossil record at least, untrue and from correlations across populations perhaps undesirable. It is also more than possible that greater height where fueled by refined carbohydrates is a symptom of great metabolic distress resulting in higher rates of at least some diseases of civilization.

Monday, 2 January 2012

my life with the eskimo

When we look at the lifeways of our Paleolithic ancestors in Ice age Europe comparisons are often drawn with the Inuit. There are quite a number of major differences between the modern arctic and subarctic and Upper Paleolithic Europe (UPE) but Inuit are still perhaps the closest we have to humans living in the UPE environment. The ecosystems of the UPE changed over the millenia but can be characterised as being relatively open Savannah or plains type environments with extreme cold. There are no modern analogues to dry mammoth grassland steppe but we can say that tundra is quite a rich ecosystem for big game with a biomass of 440-800 kg per km2 (compare with 80-600Kg for boreal forest). It is likely that the Dry mammoth steppe of the magdalenian reindeer hunters was richer in biomass than modern tundra.
Like Inuit UPE hunters would have exploited animal sources of food extensively even exclusively in some seasons so the preferences and practices of Inuit can shed some light on the distant past, always remembering that Inuit are not fossils and have had meaningful interactions with other Native Americans and Europeans for millenia. The Inuit (frequently referenced by paleo-diet types) are also worth looking at in-depth as they are frequently fought over in the "diet wars". UPE Diets high in animal protein have been reveled by tooth isotopes taken from UPE hunters.

One analysis if this could be that the hunters were eating way more meat than the foxes or indeed eating carnivores as the Inuit do. Taken from Dr Eades blog.

I bought Vilhjalmur Stefansson book "my life with the Eskimo" it is available online but I felt it was worth owning a hard copy as I wold use it for reference. I have a real penchant for the North and Arctic travel and I found this book absolutely fascinating and it is one of the few books I have managed to get totally engrossed in (and finish) since my daughter was born.
Beside being an arctic explorer V.Stefansson also proved his claim (against great scepticism) that man could live by meat and fat alone, now just to rescue him a wee bit and to direct you, gentle reader, to Anthony Colpo's brilliant blog V. Steffanson did die at the age of 82 of a stroke. He died in 1962 (at an age above modern U.S life expectancy in 2012) But he certainly wasn't a diet guru he was an explorer.
The book; the book is mostly dealt with his travels around the arctic collecting samples for museums I won't bore you with a long synopsis as you can just go out and buy the book. I will look at hunting in the Arctic and foods exploited by the Inuit. Steffanson says that the Inuit are in no way possessed of a fantastic ability to live in their environment and says that in a few years an outsider will have learnt all he needs to know to live there. Inuit are in general very pleasant but are not overly keen on travel or "adventure" He really seems to have been respectful of them, he states that the more acculturated or dependent the Indians or Inuit got to western life the worse they become, he is also massively critical of the negative effects "civilisation" had on their lives particularly religion. Guns ,he says, have hugely unbalanced things and as a consequence of this (and commercial hunting) game was becoming scarce. he manged to find some Inuit to whom he was the first westerner to visit  they used bows and lived more or less unaffected by western civilisation.

Fat was prized highly over meat indeed hair soaked in seal oil was preferred over lean caribou (which made them ill) he gives the hunting range of Inuit archers at a staggering 75 yards! As many animals were killed as possible and were cached against bears,wolves and wolverines. Wolves are rated as very edible.

Hunting a big herd of caribou (as is likely to have happened in UPE) is described in some depth
" tannaumirk according started, but when he got a mile or so on his way, he saw a place where the caribou were crossing the frozen river coming down a steep bank. As they did so it occurred to him that if he were to hide under the cut bank he would be able to stab the caribou as they passed. The animals were too quick for him however; and although (..) he was several times able to touch them with the point of his knife(..) he then went and cut down a stout willow and made a long spear-handle for his knife. He is very sure that if he done this in the first place he would have killed many caribou".

(hunting in severe cold) " wherever the animals were you could discover their presence by clouds of steam coming of them (..) if an animal ran past he left behind him a cloud of steam over his trail an marking it plainly for a mile (..) they could not only hear my footsteps (at a mile) but could even tell the difference in the sounds of my footsteps and the hundreds of caribou that were walking about at the same time"

" there are plenty of macu roots (..) people eat plenty of them"

" on may 17th (..) we shot some sea gulls near cape lyon. Otherwise we lived entirely on seals"

Fat caribou " the time (late July) had now come when the caribou might be expected to have some fat on their backs and the skins were becoming more suitable for clothing (..) toward the end of July the skin becomes of the right thickness while by October it has become too thick(..) hides taken in September and October are only used in emergencies or as bedding (..) many Eskimo claim to be able to pick out the fat caribou from a herd by observing the shape of their horns (sic) this is probably merely the ability to distinguish between the sexes in a herd at the different seasons.(...) in the fall before the rutting season the old bulls had the greatest quantities of fat In midwinter all the bulls were poor while the cows often had considerable fat. Towards the spring the young bulls began to pick up a little fat while the cows fell away (....) the largest slab of back fat which have ever seen taken from caribou (a bull killed in September) weighing 39 pounds. A large bull killed in October had back fat 72mm in thickness (..) must have weighed 50 pounds. the thicker the back fat of a caribou is the richer it is in proportion-the amount of connective tissue remaining the same, and the additional weight consisting of intestinal fat."

" I quite agree with hanbury when he says there is no way of telling about caribou migrations-when they will come or just when they will pass. It is a certain thing though that the time at which the freeze up of the lakes and rivers occurs with reference to the first coming of autumn has a marked influence on the direction of migration."
" the eskimo of coronation gulf have no firearms and kill caribou by driving them between two long rows of rock monuments into an ambush or into lakes where the caribou are pursued and speared from kayaks . two or three stones or a bunch of turf placed on top of a rock two or three feet high (..) extending for miles and ending in some valley or gulch.(the caribou when alarmed) become confused and do not venture across the mounds (..) as the caribou approach the people display themselves the herd ( rushes to the ambush) where concealed bowmen have the opportunity to shoot them at very close range (..) caribou drives are everywhere (..) caribou hunting requires nothing more than patience and hard work (..) the superiority of the Eskimo is mainly in their) willingness to spend unlimited time in approaching his quarry"

" rabbits shot by the men and ptarmigan snared and fish hooked by the women"
" musk oxen are so readily killed, often to the last animal in a herd, that the species cannot hold it's own against the most primitive of weapons"
" the western Eskimo sometimes catch seal in nets under the ice(..) wait at the hole for the seal to come up to breath then kill it with a spear (..) in all districts Inuit rely on seal for their fatty food"

Plant foods; Stefansson says Inuit eat about 10% of their diet from plant foods with that percent increasing through Alaska. Unless UPE reindeer were fattier (quite possible given improved range and potential lower human population/predation) or they obtained fat from another source, some carbohydrate source would be required by UPE hunters to avoid "rabbit starvation". It could be that the greater reliance on marine resources (in some locales) in the Upper paleolithic could be from seals or fatty fish.
foods eaten
polygonum bistortum

polygonum viviparum

polygonum fugax
"masu only when there is a shortage of animal food edible raw or cooked and have sweetish taste but are woody and fibrous, eaten in a fermented state on the colville river."
rubus chamaemus

mairania alpina

emptrum nigrum

"leaves of oxyria digyna fried in seal oil and eaten as a salad."

"frozen reindeer stomach eaten in winter one which has eaten reindeer moss is prefered. As with most other viands eaten with seal oil."

there's also quite abit in there about beards being a positive hazard in the Arctic! unexpected