Who hasn’t watched Gladiatorand then wondered why you don’t meet men like that down the local pub? The same goes for those bulging muscles of antiquity that we see in classical art galleries they’ve often made me think that, well, they don’t make ’em like they used to. Now it turns out that what we thought all along that men in ancient times were a darn sight fitter than their modern descendants – is actually true. What’s more, it seems that ancient man was also better looking and more intelligent. This is the controversial argument that Australian author Peter McAllister sets out to prove in his latest book: Manthropology – The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male.
Being a qualified archaeologist and palaeoanthropologist, McAllister has picked out some interesting examples to make his point. One is the prehistoric aboriginal people of Australia, who McAllister claims could probably have beaten Usain Bolt to the finishing line if they had still been around to compete in last year’s Olympics.
By analysing 20,000 year-old hunters’ footprints fossilized in clay, experts have established that one of the six hunters, who were chasing animals across a soft surface, would have reached a top speed of 37 km per hour. Usain Bolt ran at 42 km per hour during his 100m sprint with all the advantages of modern training, a special running track and state-of-the-art shoes.
With modern training and techniques, McAllister believes that aboriginal man could probably outrun Bolt. He is quoted by Reuters as saying: “We can assume they are running close to their maximum if they are chasing an animal. But if they can do that speed of 37 kph on very soft ground I suspect there is a strong chance they would have outdone Usain Bolt if they had all the advantages that he does.
The List Goes On…
There are many other case studies in the book that all go to prove the point that ancient man was stronger, cleverer, quicker, more intelligent, more cunning and better looking that our modern specimens. Some of these examples include:
- A biomechanical analysis that concludes that a Neanderthal woman would have beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm-wrestle. Fair enough, but I’m not sure why McAllister chose Arnie here. I know he used to be Mr Universe back in the day, but surely he’s a bit past it now. Surely even I could beat Arnie in an arm wrestle these days?
- A philological investigation of why 50 Cent wouldn’t have stood a chance in a battle-rap with the poet Homer. Yeah sure, but did Homer know who his homies were?
- A comparison of injury rates between today’s Ultimate Fighting and ancient Greek Pankration.
- An examination of the ancient Tutsi male right of passage in Rwanda, where youths would need to jump their own height to become a man. Apparently this would put our modern men’s high-jump record, set by Cuban Javier Sotomayor at 2.45m, in the shade.
- Why David Beckham wouldn’t have cut it as a pin-up if he was judged by the standards of the ancient Fulani tribe. Sorry, did someone say he also plays football? We only have to look at the statues of Hadrian’s Antinous to see that male beauty was highly considered in Roman times as well.
McAllister’s arguments are convincing and engage with popular culture at the same time. They tap into the growing culture of magazines and media focusing on male health and beauty. But any men out there feeling worried that they might not compare so well with the ancients should take some consolation in remembering that what they’ve lost in hunter-gatherer speed and gladiatorial muscle tone, they gain in other areas. For one thing modern brewing techniques have come a long way, and you never saw a Greek pankratiast with an ipod.