an imaginative look a palaeolithic life

health and fitness

Pros and cons of the paleo diet

I originally posted this in an online forum.  I think it makes a better blog post than forum post though.

pros

– you get lots of exercise hunting food
– you get lots of exercise walking around the countryside gathering food
– meat cooked on an open fire tastes great
– it’s really, really healthy
– you won’t get fat because you can’t eat without catching your food first
– sitting around a campfire with your neanderthal/Denisovan/Homo heidelbergensis/Homo erectus* friends while the meat cooks will be nice and fun and relaxing
– living outdoors at one with nature is really good for that inner sense of well-being that’s so hard to find in modern society

*choose which you identify with most, or whichever best matches your cranial capacity

cons

– it can be hard to get enough fat and carbohydrate. Well, protein, vitamins and minerals can be hard to get too. Food, generally, is not easy to get. So you might be hungry a lot. Hopefully you won’t die of it though.
– it’s really really hard to make effective hunting weapons using only stone tools.
– neanderthal skeletons show injury patterns similar to rodeo riders, i.e there’s a high risk of getting your bones broken while catching food. Upper palaeolithic hunting methods (i.e. with projectile weapons) are safer, but good luck making accurate throwing spears and bows and arrows and similar out of flint, wood and animal sinew….
– flint and iron pyrite are hard to find, without these starting fires is really hard. it’s not that easy even with flint and iron pyrite.
– you can only eat fruit for part of the year, unless you find yourself a nice tropical rainforest to live in, and then you’d be in competition for it with other primates who are much better at climbing trees than you
– tropical rainforests are full of nasty, poisonous bugs, snakes and stuff. A more temperate climate would be safer, but the food that you’d eat to survive the winter is more likely to be tough and taste yucky
– palaeolithic clothing doesn’t look that great. Well, upper palaeolithic clothing probably did look quite fancy and attractive….. but you need to be able to make a needle out of flint before you can make it. Even making a middle palaeolithic flint awl for lace/strap holes in skins for middle palaeolithic clothing is beyond your flintknapping abilities. Heck, there’s a bonobo called Kanzi who’s a better flintknapper than you… you’ll be lucky to manage to make lower palaeolithic stone tools so forget clothes and just go naked. Not sure how you’ll survive the winter like that though, unless you live somewhere tropical with all the bugs and snakes and stuff.
– no bread, cake, chocolate, in fact pretty much none of the food that you know, other than barbequed meat, because most of it came from selective breeding, or the Americas, or other parts of Africa/Eurasia that are not where you live, so you won’t be able to find it.
– and no internet, so you can’t even look up on you tube to learn how to make stone tools to reclaim your right to call yourself human and say “in your face!” to any bonobo upstarts who are trying to out-Homo the genus Homo.


Palaeolithic workouts

Following on from my earlier article about how humans are adapted for long distance running, and in response to the number of people who “go paleo”, here are some workouts inspired by the hunting techniques of palaeolithic humans.

Disclaimer: this post is for educational purposes, to illustrate just how fit and strong palaeolithic people were.  These workouts require an extreme level of strength and/or conditioning, attempt at your own risk.

Homo erectus workout

1. warm up by walking around and stretching out a bit and having a laugh with your workout buddies (humans are pack hunters)

2. sprint as fast as you can for as long as you can.  You are chasing an animal until it gets away.

3. Throw 2 six-sided dice.  Jog or run at a slow/fairly easy pace for the minutes the dice tells you.  This is how long it takes you to track the animal and find where it’s resting so you can chase it again.

4. repeat 2 and 3 three times.

5. throw 2 six-sided dice again… if you get snake eyes (double 1) you catch the animal and can proceed to step 6.  if you get any other number combination, you must repeat 2 and 3, then throw again.  Keep repeating 2, 3 and 5 until you get snake eyes.

6. throw the two dice again.  this is how many miles away from home you are.  Walk home, carrying a sandbag on your shoulders (to represent your share of the meat you’re helping to carry home).

7. Eat barbequed meat as your post-workout meal.  (We’ll assume you’re emulating a later Homo erectus, seeing as it’s probably not good for the Homo sapiens digestive system to eat raw meat.)

Homo neanderthalensis workout

1. throw a 6 sided dice.  This is how many kilometers you have to walk to get to where the animals are.  Neanderthals lived in mountainous regions, so at least half of this walk needs to be uphill.

2. you have to sneak up on an animal and kill it quickly… there are a number of ways you can emulate this.  A wrestling match or throwing your weight at a punchbag or something might work… anything that involves a lot of strength and power and a high intensity of exercise.  This would probably be for a fairly short duration, but I don’t know how long it would have taken because I have never attempted to kill a large mammal using a middle palaeolithic spear.  However you emulate this, be very aggressive and give it 100% or you won’t get a post-workout meal.

3. walk home while fireman carrying someone the same weight as you or heavier (the same distance as for 1).  This represents your share of the animal you’re carrying home.  Yes it’s larger than the one in the Homo erectus workout; neanderthals hunted bigger animals than Homo erectus did.  This too has to be at least 50% uphill.  They lived in the mountains; home was generally in an uphill direction.  Now you know why neanderthals were so heavily built.

4. eat a post-workout meal of barbequed meat.  You can cook some veggies on the barbeque to go with it if you want.

Homo sapiens sapiens workout:

This is just like the Homo erectus workout, but instead of throwing a dice for step 5, you fire a arrow or throw a throwing spear at a moving target.  If you get a bullseye, or hit the target (non-bullseye) for a 3rd time, the animal is dead and you preceed to step 6.

After being hit by a non-fatal blow (i.e. a non-bullseye hit to the target) the animal is slower so tracking it will be easier.  After one non-fatal hit, multiply the number you throw for step 3 by 0.6, after two non-fatal hits, multiply it by 0.3.  Run for this number of minutes each time.

It should be clear by now just how much a species of couch potatoes modern humans have become.  I hope this inspires some Homo sapiens sapiens couch potatoes to get out and do some more exercise.  You can match the workout to your goals.  If you want to be built like a neanderthal, then work out for power and strength, if you want the endurance of a Homo erectus, then go running.   Or at least get out and do some kind of physical activity that you enjoy because humans evolved to be a lot more active than many people are nowadays.


paleo bread recipe

Okay, well there’s been all this talk in health and fitness circles about the paleo diet, which is not too bad an idea but some versions of it rather irrationally eliminate all grains and legumes, and it has spawned foods like this paleo bread, which clearly has been baked in a metal container in a modern oven, sliced on a machine and wrapped in plastic…

palaeolithic bread wrapped in plastic

….. this got me thinking about whether it’s possible to make anything vaguely resembling bread from gathered wild wheat, using only palaeolithic technology.  Well I got my Homo sapiens sapiens brain with its increased capacity for innovation and cultural adaptation into gear, and realised that not only is it possible to make something that vaguely resembles bread using only palaeolithic technology, it’s actually possible using only middle palaeolithic technology.

Here’s how it could, in theory, be done.  (Bear in mind that I’ve never actually tried this and as I struggle to make a decent flatbread on a modern stove, it’s probably best if you don’t ever rely on this actually working in the real world.  If you want to live with only middle palaeolithic technologies, then stick to barbecued meat and whatever fresh plant foods you can get your hands on)

Warning to the faint hearted: this is a humorous post involving middle palaeolithic technology.  It’s quite common for modern people to be grossed out by certain aspects of middle palaeolithic culture.  If you’re in that category, then this probably isn’t the post for you, so you might want to try reading a different one.

1. First gather your wild wheat.  I would imagine you’d need rather a lot of it.  Additionally, you’d need to live somewhere where wheat actually grows wild to begin with, and it has to be in season too.  But all things being as they should be, gather your wild wheat.

2.  Obtain a cranium.  This is going to be a bowl.  I’m not sure how easy it is to make a wooden bowl using middle palaeolithic stone tools, but I guess you could try that if you really object strongly to cannibalism.  Anyway, the best kind of cranium would be a Homo sapiens one, seeing as it’s dome shaped.  Homo neanderthalensis would probably work, or maybe even a Homo erectus one if you’re on a diet.  Not sure if animal craniums would be big enough.  Regarding the brains that you remove to access said cranium,  these are apparently rather good for tanning hides.  On the other hand, middle palaeolithic people were not aware of prion disease and a human brain is an excellent source of omega 3s.

3. Get two quite large stones with flat surfaces.  Large pebbles from a stream would be good.  use these as grinding stones, put the gathered wheat in between them and grind  it into a powder, and collect it in the cranium bowl.  Don’t worry about little bits of rock getting in with your freshly ground flour, it’s kind of like dietary fibre in a way and might contain some important minerals.

4. Mix the newly ground flour with some water to make a dough.  No need to add yeast, this is more like the unleavened flat breads you can get.  Middle palaeolithic sources of yeast are probably a lot more gross than eating someone’s brain and using their cranium as a bowl, so unleavened is probably safer.  (This does beg the question as to where neolithic people got the first yeast to make the first leavened bread though…)

5. Get one of the stones with a flat surface and leave it in the embers of a fire long enough to get extremely hot.  Flatten your dough into a flatbread shape, then place on the hot rock until it is cooked through.  You could attempt to turn it over, though I’m not sure what you can use as a spatula with only middle palaeolithic technology.

6. If you’re feeling really brave, eat the bread.

Disclaimer: this is not an authentic middle palaeolithic bread recipe, and it has not been tested.  Most ways in which human craniums could be obtained in modern times are totally illegal and could quite possibly get you sectioned before you even get as far as the criminal courts.  School science lab issue human craniums are not approved for culinary use.  Finally, actual middle palaeolithic people probably did not bother with any of the above, and just ate the wild wheat grains as they found them (and if they did use human craniums as bowls it would most likely have been after the original owner of the cranium died of natural causes).