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.