Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
February 25, 2010

Hunter-Gatherer Body Composition

By Mark Sisson
111 Comments

A couple weeks ago in my post about health and vanity a good discussion got started in the comment board about the body composition of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Was Grok lean and ripped or not? Let’s take a look at what we know.

It’s pretty well established that hunter-gatherers eating their traditional, whole-foods hunter-gatherer diet (whether Inuit, or Masai, or Pacific Islander, or whatever else) display little to no signs of the diseases of civilization. Infection, warfare, pestilence, starvation, and colonial incursion were occasional or even frequent sources of poor health outcomes, but for the most part they were well-nourished and free of degenerative diseases, even the long lived members. These guys weren’t dying for lack of statins or chemotherapy – let’s put it this way.

They were also physically active. They had to be, since dinner wasn’t to be found on a menu or on a store shelf (or even a farmers’ market). And if food was to be hunted, gathered, or wrestled wriggling from a rushing river, physical prowess increased the chances of success. Some anthropologists even suggest that the athletic prowess of Paleolithic man rivaled that of modern day Olympians. A few months back, I linked to paleoanthropologist Peter McAllister’s claims that his analysis of 20,000 year old Australian aboriginal footprints revealed a top speed of 37 km per hour – pretty damn close to Usain Bolt’s 42 km per hour. Give these guys a hard surface, some modern training, and McAllister bets they’d match or top Bolt. He cites similar feats in other peoples, including 110 meter hardwood spear throws and Tutsi initiation rites requiring high jumps of 2.52 meters. Even if he’s exaggerating or mistaken, the average hunter-gatherer – modern or Paleolithic alike – is going to be fitter than the average modern sedentary human, just as gym rats are fitter than people who never exercise. It’s a pretty simple concept.

But were they jacked? Could they grace the cover of Men’s Fitness? Or did Grok possess the universally lauded “Brad Pitt in Fight Club” physique?

Before we get into this too far let me make one important point. While Grok certainly had the capacity to become very strong and very lean very quickly (just as we do), survival dictates that he (or she) conserve energy. Grok’s not worried about definition in his lats, or getting lean enough to show off his 6 pack or in topping his personal records in the squat rack. It was much more practical for Grok. All that mattered to Grok was whether he was fit enough to bag that next boar. In other words, the capacity to be ripped doesn’t mean you have the obligation to be ripped. When you don’t know where the next meal is coming from conservation of energy is a huge consideration. Additionally, for a society that has virtually no material objectives other than catching the next pig and gathering the next palm frond it’s wealth is leisure time. The ability to relax, play, rest and just live was Grok’s luxury. So Grok’s mentality would have been, “how can I get the most amount of enjoyment with the least amount of input”. (Hmmm. Sounds a lot like The Primal Blueprint.) There is evidence that they were stronger and leaner and genetically they were certainly capable, but bear in mind that there is also a premium put on energy conservation.

Now back to the question of whether Grok looked like Mr. Pitt.

We don’t know for sure. I mean, it’d be silly to suggest no one had the rippling abs, but we can’t say they were normal features for early man. Going by fossilized remains, it certainly seems plausible that Grok was carrying a fair amount of lean mass on his body; Paleolithic human fossils typically evince far higher levels of mineral bone density than do modern humans, and strong, dense bones are hallmarks of physically active people engaged in weight bearing exercises (in a gym or on the savannah). The science is quite definitive on this note, but it still doesn’t mean Grok was overly muscular. It just means Grok was active and strong enough to make it through the day, and he was bearing plenty of weight, enough to stimulate bone density growth. Bones are living organs that respond to stimuli, much like muscle does. Exerting oneself and lifting weights (barbells or fallen game) tells your body to build stronger bones.

But do dense bones necessarily mean big muscles? Couldn’t they simply mean big exertion?

A small British study from several years back might give us a clue as to how bone mineral densities correspond to muscularity in active individuals. After comparing the bone mineral densities of several groups of athletes to that of a (non-exercising age-matched, gender-matched) control group, researchers found that rugby players displayed the greatest adjusted increase in bone mineral density. Strength athletes were close behind, followed by triathletes and tennis players. These groups all showed major increases in bone density when compared to the control group, while the “low-strain, low-impact” cyclists and rowers showed no beneficial growth in bone density. To get an idea of the type of physiques that accompany the various bone mineral densities, take a look at a group of rugby players, a powerlifter, and a triathlete. Now, check out some rowers and a cyclist. These are just pictures of individuals, and they don’t tell the entire story, nor do they rule out the existence of heavily muscled cyclists and emaciated rugby players, but I’d say they’re at least somewhat representative of the average. I think it’s safe to suggest that high mineral bone densities derived from athletic activity correspond to relatively robust muscularity. I also think it’s safe to suggest that since our ancestors were undoubtedly active on a regular basis, their robust bone densities indicate a pretty decent physique – unless they somehow found a steady source of fructose-rich honey, continuously gorged on root strips fried in a hollowed-out buffalo skull filled with boiling tallow, and developed an insulin-resistant belly to cover up those muscles.

Based on fossil evidence and modern understandings of how bone densities correspond to muscular hypertrophy in athletes, we can surmise that hunter-gatherers did have the potential for impressive physiques. The actual composition of HG musculature undoubtedly varied based on how they exerted themselves – if you were more gatherer than hunter, for example, you wouldn’t be bearing as much weight or exerting yourself as much, whereas a big game hunter with a steady diet of explosive thrusts, sprints, and carcass-heaving might be a hulking mass of corded muscle (like a Neanderthal).

What about modern hunter-gatherers? They don’t look all that impressive. Are they accurate corollaries for Grok?

Any photographs we have are of fringe hunter-gatherers, of displaced peoples subsisting on less than ideal lands with less available game and fewer resources. They aren’t necessarily indicative of what actual untouched hunter-gatherers looked like. Photos of Native Americans twiddling their thumbs on reservations are just sad reminders of their plight and their destruction; if anything, it’s an indication of the poor Western diet and the effects of sedentarism and perpetual despair. The camera records for posterity, but its very presence affects its subjects. Photos aren’t taken in a vacuum; they are taken amidst the dissembling of the very conditions that enabled our ancestors’ robust health and physicality. It’s impossible to separate the two.

Modern hunter-gatherers no longer have the lay of the land, and what land remains open is forever (short)changed. Roads and towns disrupt the delicate balance of wildlife, the natural ebb and flow that traditional people – as willing, integrated members of the natural cycle – came to rely upon for sustenance and survival. Beyond that, though, the arrival of civilization means the widespread destruction of wildlife and habitat. It’s a basic formula: human population increases (either through agricultural explosion or colonization), wild game population decreases (either by destruction of habitat or overhunting). History is replete with tales of bountiful hunting grounds rendered fallow in a single generation. It’s progress, yeah, and it’s made for some incredible advances, but it also undoubtedly spells certain doom for the hunter-gatherer folk who still happen to be living and eating there. So when someone points out the subtle man-boobs of a hunter-gatherer barely eking out a somewhat traditional existence on a sliver of land in some war torn nation, I don’t think that’s fair to Grok.

There are the stories, though – the anthropologic accounts of individual explorers and scientists living among traditional, mostly untouched peoples still following the old ways before the wagons arrived. There’s the Lewis and Clark journal (available free online), in which our intrepid explorers write of “plains Covd. with game” and witness “immence quantities of game in every direction around us…consisting of herds of Buffaloe, Elk, and Antelopes with some deer and wolves” – game so plentiful “that two good hunters could conveniently supply a regiment with provisions” and so “gentle that the men frequently throw sticks and stones at them in order to drive them out of the way.” These weren’t the skittish, sparse herds that populate civilized America today and have to dodge cars and hunters; no, the America known by historic hunter-gatherers was populated by reams of walking, running, nibbling, grazing, and brazen sacks of living meat willing and liable to walk right up to you. Their native guides would go for a light stroll and come back bearing several elks, a buck or two, and an antelope, almost by accident.

Travel accounts and skeletal records from the precolonial era (or, at least, pre-reservation era) reveal that the native peoples of the North American plains tribes were taller than their colonizer counterparts, as well as stronger, fitter, and healthier (except when faced with guns and foreign diseases, of course). Richard Steckel, from the Ohio State University Anthropology department, published a paper called “Tallest in the World: Native Americans of the Great Plains in the Nineteenth Century” that asserts the Plains nomads were actually “tallest in the world during the mid-nineteenth century” as confirmed by “travelers’ accounts and by the skeletal record.” He compared 9,000 individual fossil records from 51 different Native American groups ranging from North to South America, and the horse-riding, buffalo-eating Plains tribes were the tallest and most robust. They were also among the most physically active – and physically impressive – groups, and they obtained a significant portion of their caloric intake from animal fat and protein. Their neighbors to the south, like the Southern Cheyenne, were more sedentary and ate a more agrarian diet. They were also “less considerable in stature.”

I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think it’s obvious that activity level and macronutrient ratio plays a huge role in hunter-gatherer body composition. The more activity they get, the more hunting they do, the more calories they derive from animal foods, the more physically impressive they are – the more typically “ripped” they appear. Kinda like what you’d expect from modern humans following a meat-and-animal-fat-heavy diet and strength-training regimen versus a vegetarian diet and yoga regimen (nothing against yoga!). The animal eater and heavy-thing lifter is going to have more muscle and less fat, on average (I know, I know, bring on the “entirely representative” pictures of crazy vegan bodybuilders).

This seems to play out in other hunter-gatherer cultures, too. While most of the pictures I was able to find were of flabby or nondescript modern hunter-gatherer physiques (subsisting on less than ideal lands, remember), there were a few with impressive, lean looks – and they were often members of meat-centric groups who still managed to maintain a fairly traditional diet. Take the Ache, from Paraguay, who get over 80% of their calories from animals or insects. Pretty impressive all around:

Check out this bow hunter and note the dense shoulder striations.
Or how about this guy mean mugging the camera?
Here’s another bow hunter with a good build.
Here’s both men and women.
And I’d be willing to bet this guy would have a very respectable back squat.

There’s also the Hadza, out of central Tanzania, who still manage to scrape together a decent proportion of meat in their diet. They do the root-and-tuber thing, too, of course, but meat remains the most prized – if not always plentiful – food.
The guys aren’t completely ripped, but they’re solid enough and plenty lean. Check out the leg musculature, especially the calves. And check out this dude in Papua New Guinea.

Australian Aboriginals, around the turn of the century, weren’t exactly slouches, even the old guys! Here’s a younger one, and here’s a group of lean, dangerous looking hunters. Of course, there’s always variation in any population.

The pictures don’t mean much either way; it’s just my way of showing that, despite pretty much everything stacked against their way of life, some modern hunter-gatherers are still able to forge impressive physiques. They weren’t all flabby. Assuming wild game was as plentiful in the Paleolithic as the travel writers claim it was before widespread colonialism, I’d imagine that earlier hunter-gatherers had more opportunities than their modern counterparts to be decently ripped. That’s all.

The physique of early man was dependent on many factors: activity level, activity type, diet, availability of animal protein/fat, and the seasonal patterns, to name just a few variables. The more hunting they did and meat they ate, the “better” their physique was – at least, that’s how it played out among modern hunter-gatherers, as well as those of us who follow a Primal eating (high meat) and exercising (high exertion) plan. And let’s remember that Grok had an interest in not exerting himself. More often than not conditions were such that Grok had to labor and his physique showcased this fact. But if conditions changed so would his body composition.

I think it’s safe to say that, judging from the robust bone structure and intense physicality of our ancestors, plus what we know about bone density and modern musculature today, there were more than a few well proportioned individuals running around the tundra, the savannah, the forests, and the bush of the ancient world. They may not have had mirrors with which to chart the developing definition of their abdominals, and they probably didn’t care about vascularity or the “pump,” but they were strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, and tough enough to make it this far… do you really think there weren’t even one or two six packs among the lot of ‘em? I mean, if we pampered moderns can somehow manage to put up respectable weight and assemble decent bodies while driving cars, working office jobs, and sleeping in soft fluffy beds, I bet Grok could too.

What do you think? Was Grok a slouch, ripped or somewhere in between? Does it matter? Share your thoughts in the comment board and Grok on!

TAGS:  body fat, Grok

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

100 Comments on "Hunter-Gatherer Body Composition"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Greg
6 years 9 months ago

Great article. I’d say you’re right about many early Grok’s being cut. But the counterargument could be made that because subsistence required sometimes being hard to come by, and efficiency offering survival advantages, body fat likely didn’t hover in the 3-4% range either.

Great pics of the archers, too. I can say from experience that archery will stress muscles you don’t use in any other activity.

Hugh
6 years 9 months ago

In addition to diet, I think a huge factor in the “ripped-ness” of hunter-gatherers was their level of activity. They sure didn’t sit at computer desks for 10 hours a day! Very insightful post

Todd
6 years 9 months ago

I agree 100%. For an average person, when you hear the word “job” you immediately think about sitting in an office for 8-10 hours. Sad, but incredibly true. You couldn’t say this not too long ago.

I am at my computer for about 5 hours a day as I have my own blog. But, I am smart enough to at least use a stand up workstation – I love it by the way!

Dave C.
6 years 9 months ago

Functional fitness tends to produce functional muscles. So, I think your hypothesis of the body comp of hunter-gatherers makes a lot of sense.

MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago

Totally agree with your assumptions. We need also to look at the Gorillas and Chimps. They are not human but very close and in the wild they are almost complete vegetarian.

That doesn’t say anything about how anyone SHOULD be; Again another proof that “reprogramming the genes” or let’s say adaptation to habits and conditions is really the most defining factor.

Cause and effect way…

Matt
Matt
6 years 9 months ago

I’m not sure about chimps, but I know for sure that lowland gorillas use gut fermentation to process cellulose. Over 50% of the output of this process is short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), so even though gorillas are consuming plants, they’re still nutritionally on a high-fat diet.

MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago

Yeah, but that’s exactly an adaptation to the vegetarian diet. Right? Practically they don’t ingest animal fats. That was my point.

I’m not familiar with that cellulose fermentation you talk about but if that’s true (and I’m sure it is) it’s another point proven in adaptation power.

SLS
SLS
6 years 9 months ago

Our guts are too small (the colon in particular) to ferment digestible fiber on the scale that the gorilla does. Small gut, big brain = high quality nutritionally dense foods. In other words, we get our fat by eating fat, they get theirs by gut microflora

Ben
Ben
1 year 1 month ago

Gorillas and chimps adapted to their diets through millions of years of evolution. Humans have separated from them and evolved differently. Humans aren’t adapted to vegetarian diets and need a boat load of supplements and food modifications to get a sustainable vegetarian diet. Not being anti or pro anything, just the fact that a human can eat raw meat and often drink raw milk no problem. Not exactly capable of eating raw brown rice and peas, unless he wants a severe gut irritation

Primal JAK
Primal JAK
6 years 9 months ago

Gorillas are full-blown vegetarians, but chimps are omnivores who hunt quite a bit.

But one key about human evolution is that we went FROM being mostly vegetarian TO being predators.

See: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-library/are-we-meat-eaters-or-vegetarians-part-ii/

Mudbeard
6 years 9 months ago

Neanderthals are much loser related to homo sapiens and were almost completely carnivore…

Reindeer
Reindeer
4 years 6 months ago

Chimps, gorillas and humans are entirely different species, though… Though chimps and man have evolved from a common ancestor, we don’t have any chimps in our evolutionary history. Looking at chimps and gorillas would be like comparing grizzlies with panda bears :/

pieter d
pieter d
6 years 9 months ago

Mark,

Thanks for this post! Maybe just one more thing: don’t forget the powers of sexual selection:

cheers,

Pieter

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 9 months ago

Mark, I’m curious about racial differences and pysical performance. I can’t remember the last time I saw a white guy win the 100m olympics. Whereas winter olympics is whiter than the ghost. Also, was it natural for grok to squat or deadlift 315?

SLS
SLS
6 years 9 months ago

Race is no more than a cultural or geographical designation and skin pigmentation difference. Essentially, unless you’re a forensic anthropologist, race does not exist. The differences you observe in participation of olympic events I would guess stem from socio-economic background.

Chris
Chris
6 years 9 months ago
With all due respect, the race-is-a-social-construct meme is actually the social construct. Sickle cell, lactose intolerance, rates of disease: “The environment is important to look at. But in this age of progress in genetic research, scientists are also studying how genes may affect heart disease within specific racial or ethnic groups.” -Angina Basics 2009 Not to mention consistently measured racial differences in body mass (BMI) and bone density (BMD). It’s a bit naive to believe that the only difference between races is the ability to form vitamin D. We evolved via diverse climates and overcame immensely diverse challenges over incomprehensively… Read more »
SLS
SLS
6 years 9 months ago
Please please don’t mistake environmental effects for genetic predisposition. Your confusion about “racial” differences in BMI and bone density can be clarified by a quick read of Boas’s work from the early 1900’s on anthropometric work, especially pertaining to the descendants of immigrants in the U.S. Furthermore, there is not immense biodiversity among humans. We are all incredibly genetically similar. I’m sure you know the phrase, “there is more genetic variation within groups than between groups.” Groups being, geographically or ethnically distinct populations. I have no idea who Angina Basics is without any source referencing, nor is the context of… Read more »
Chris
Chris
6 years 9 months ago
Could not link to Angina Basics – if you copy and paste the quote you’ll find the site. This is a common question in modern genetic research – is it not? I’ve linked to a study of BMI and BMD below; there are many. Did not mean to imply that fat was an insulator, rather stored energy for an upcoming period of limited food. If food was (on average) ever present, as in equatorial climates, and food became sparse on a yearly basis (as in northern longitudes) then don’t you agree that the ability to easily add fat in autumn… Read more »
SLS
SLS
6 years 9 months ago
Yes I searched for the Angina comment but found nothing. No matter. It is sadly a common question but it exemplifies the academic line drawn between social sciences (namely anthropology) and medical or natural sciences when they pertain to human studies. These types of questions posited by medical research neglect the multitude of anthropologists screaming at the greater scientific community to finally drop the notion that race is a viable categorization. It is most certainly not. It is typological thinking that focuses on the variation between rather than the variation within groups. I understand the futility of this debate in… Read more »
Chris
Chris
6 years 9 months ago
The original comments-discussion that helped inspire this particular post hinged on whether ripped, six-pack abs were as ubiquitous in Grok’s day as they are in the pages of Men’s Health exercise pull-outs (or in the stock-photo selections of MDA). I argued that healthy Grok did not have ripped abs in the fall, as he prepared for a season of relatively scarce food. This initiated the back and forth that warranted this additional post/discussion. I assumed a few things. They were: That Grok is human (Homo sapien sapien) not archaic (proto) Homo sapien That Mark was referring to his ancestral grandfather… Read more »
chris
chris
6 years 9 months ago

“Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force” – NY Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/science/02evo.html?pagewanted=1&em

SLS
SLS
6 years 9 months ago

You must be very very confused about everything I said above.

Karin
Karin
6 years 9 months ago

With regards to Lewis and Clark and the “brazen sacks of living meat” I am reminded of Charles C. Mann’s book 1491. Mann, and others, have suggested that the bounty that awaited the pioneers was the result of a massive pestilence-induced depopulation (of humans)in the Americas that started at the time of Columbus and resulted in the massive overgrowth of many species that have never existed in such population densities before or since. It’s possible that Grok had to work a lot harder for his lunch than the peoples Lewis and Clark observed.

Allbeef Patty
6 years 9 months ago

You took the words right out of my mouth.

Jason
Jason
6 years 9 months ago

I tend to disbelieve Lewis and Clark to a degree. They were hired to scout the land with the knowedge that their findings would likely be used to encourage land settlement.
I’ve also hunted Bison, and they are absolutely not docile creatures.

chris
chris
6 years 9 months ago
Racial/ethnic difference in bone density and musculature is a factor overlooked in the comments-exchanges of the “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” post. Was West African Grok more “ripped” than his cousins thriving in the Caucasus? Are Mark’s tropical (equatorial) examples of H/G peoples an example of folks who don’t need to prepare for a “lean” winter? Wouldn’t natural selection have favored the propensity for additional fat storage as we migrated away from the equator (into snow)? “Seasonal patterns” would have had a huge effect on body fat composition. If skin color (vitamin D) underwent selective pressure then certainly fat storage… Read more »
SLS
SLS
6 years 9 months ago

Body fat is not an insulator for humans as we regulate body temperature by metabolism. Fat storage would relate only to energy needs, not thermoregulation. We do not use fat as other animals do with blubber. There is a difference.

The populations in the arctic survive the cold as any of us would, through technology. You can validate this with the changing surface area to volume ratio as it correlates to latitudinal population distribution.

Again, race is a non-factor.

Allbeef Patty
6 years 9 months ago

I think this was more about the relative lack of steady food supplies in winter than the insulating factor of body fat. Though I do agree that it would be more a question of geography than genetics.

VtDoc
VtDoc
6 years 9 months ago

Or these Indonesian whale hunters.

http://www.trekearth.com/viewphotos.php?l=3&p=806253

Steve Scarfia
6 years 9 months ago

Great article Mark!

Also, regarding Racial/Ethnic difference in muscular development, I have seen people from all different racial groups with all of the different body types (thin and wiry, well muscled, barrel chested, lots of extra padding, etc.), so I don’t think there is any real inference that can be made as to whether or not race/ethnicity plays any real importance on the matter.

chris
chris
6 years 9 months ago

Peoples of African heritage “on average” have greater body mass (BMI) than peoples of European dissent. Asians are “typically” smaller in stature when compared to the other two racial groups.

Not all, not every, but “on average”.

Technology is altering the course of our evolution, which is of course on-going.

Here is a recent study; there are many which arrive at this same conclusion.

http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/3/1/14

Allbeef Patty
6 years 9 months ago

Great article!

While I think what we consider “ripped” probably did happen on occasion, I can’t help but think about Stew Smith. He’s a former Navy Seal who is in the fitness business now. I first saw him in a short documentary about the capabilities of military men. After seeing what he can do, I’d feel comfortable calling him one of the fittest men in the world. While he looks great, his build isn’t what you’re likely to see on the cover of muscle mags, yet he functions on a level that the “ripped” guys probably couldn’t.

Mastur
Mastur
6 years 9 months ago
Great article! Such physical prowess has been recorded even in the mid-nineteenth century. Historian Kerim Fenari writes about the Mountain dwellers of the Caucus: “In such an extreme landscape, only strong children survived. Spending their days in endless toil up and down the slopes, by the time they reached maturity the Chechen and Daghestani men were wiry and immensely strong. It is recorded that in the mid-nineteenth century no Chechen girl would consent to marry a man unless he had killed at least one Russian, could jump over a stream twenty-three feet wide, and over a rope held at shoulder-height… Read more »
TonyP
TonyP
6 years 9 months ago
Mark, good stuff – there are a couple points thatI wanted to touch on more that would tell us better if they were Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Gerard Butler in 300. 1. You are right, they weren’t worried about how they looked – to build on that, being jacked was NOT there goal like it is ours. That right there, along with modern ways of getting 150-200grams of protein EVERY day mean they probably weren’t huge. 2. they didn’t know when their next meal was coming. We have the advantage of sparking our metabolism whenever we want. Grok… Read more »
kcurtain
kcurtain
6 years 9 months ago
You seem to forget that Grok didn’t just have to find food, he also had to impress the ladies! I think that Grok DID go to lengths to look good for that reason – and being ripped (not Mr Universe ripped, but six-pack ripped) would certainly be part of that because it would show the man was at a level of fitness that would allow him to provide for any offspring. Also, in every indigenous tribe that I’ve ever heard of dancing was a very important pastime. Some of the dancing was spiritual, but some of it was for showing… Read more »
Kelda
6 years 9 months ago
That’s a good point, I was watching a series of African documentaries just recently on the BBC (The Lost Kingdoms of Africa) and each ‘tribe/kingdom’ they looked at had rituals involving dance and preening (in the way that many males of many other species do), presumably fulfilling the same function of proving ‘fitness’ for purpose – ability to produce strong offspring and provide for them. So, when I admire the ripped guys with six-packs I’m following my genetic encoding and am not being shallow after all 🙂 As an aside, the most amazing bits in the series were the early… Read more »
MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago
I think I’m reconsidering the way I was thinking regarding the need of Grok to impress for mating. I think mating was more like a hunt, when the male practically decides who wants to mate with and if that involved a fight for the Grokette, so be it (if worth it). Grok wanted? Grok took (if possible). I don’t think Grokettes had much saying to this matter. I believe the society was a alpha style organized one, alphas were the strong dominant males. Who was dominant? from case to case… the most skillful, physically apt and intelligent individual in the… Read more »
Kelda
6 years 9 months ago

Mm, that doesn’t feel right at all, I see the early societies (the small tribes and groups) as much more cooperative than that, more mutual, although I have no research evidence for that of course. Interesting difference of opinion, wonder if it’s gender-related!

kcurtain
kcurtain
6 years 9 months ago
Wow, MichaelA, that’s a really chauvinistic point of view. Do you really think that cavemen were dragging cavewomen around by their hair like they do in cartoons? Take a look at other animals’ mating behaviors – the males either try to impress the females through display or the males compete with each other for alpha dominance, they don’t generally force the females into anything. Take a look at our closest ape relatives – chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. While rape does occur, it is the exception to the rule. In gorillas and chimpanzees, the females often go behind the alpha male’s… Read more »
jsadberry
6 years 9 months ago

Was he necessarily arguing that “rape” occurred? In chimpanzee society, the females simply consent to mate with whoever is dominant, so rape is not even necessary for status males most of the time. Is there really anything to be gained by projecting modern social politics onto our early ancestors?

kcurtain
kcurtain
6 years 9 months ago
I thought that “Grok wanted? Grok took (if possible)” certainly implied rape. If the females were consenting to mate with the dominant male, then he wasn’t “taking” anything – it’s mutual. In chimpanzee society, the females don’t always just choose to mate with the dominant male; forced sex does occur (from dominant and non-dominant males) and the females are kicking and screaming to get away so it is definitely rape. My point is that if something occurs in other great ape societies, then it probably did to some extent in early human society. However, I think it is projecting modern… Read more »
jsadberry
6 years 9 months ago

I was addressing your use of the term “chauvinistic” to characterize what appeared to be a simple attempt to describe what the poster imagined to be the circumstances of our ancestors (which fairly would have undergone many iterations over the course of evolution, from chimp-like all the way to kinship-egalitarian). Maybe he’s wrong, maybe he’s right, maybe he’s somewhere in between, but the political label you used was inflammatory. If you take into consideration mammal behavior in general, there’s reason to assume that his theory was some kind of reaching and fantastical scenario.

kcurtain
kcurtain
6 years 9 months ago
Look, I’m not some sort of raging feminist. I’m a housewife for goodness sake! 😉 I’m happy to assume that Grok society was male-dominated. But I think to assume that males got to do whatever they wanted is sexist because it assumes that Grokette was weak and helpless. That’s why I used the term “chavinistic.” The “Grok want, Grok take” attitude seems to presuppose that past societies were as male-centered as modern Western society is. If MichaelA had backed up his opinion with any evidence that past human societies were led by an alpha male, then I wouldn’t call the… Read more »
MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago

Proof? What more proof you want? C’mon… you must be kidding. Forget looking at the baboons. Look at humans… Even in present maybe a third or more of the population of the planet still experience this society behavior. Let’s discuss a bit about women right’s in Islamic countries. That’s TODAY.

Go back in history and see when Women became equal here in the USA. Now… think a bit about how women were treated in medieval ages… Talking about consent eh? Now, go back to the caves…

Chauvinistic? It’s reality…

kcurtain
kcurtain
6 years 9 months ago
Okay, Michael, let’s assume that primal society was like modern society. All modern societies eat grains – so primal man must have eaten grains, right? Capitalism is the dominant economic form around the world – so hunter-gatherers must have been capitalists, right? Monotheistic religions are ascribed to by the vast majority of modern humans – so tribal societies must have been monotheistic too, right? My point is that just because a culture is dominant today, it doesn’t mean that’s the way things have always been. You are transposing your modern beliefs on past societies with no evidence other than, “Well,… Read more »
Suvetar
Suvetar
5 years 8 months ago
Here is how it works. I wouldn’t want to be raped by a fat, middle aged, crusty guy with bad teeth…but if someone like The Rock would do it I don’t think I’d kick too hard =P Especially if The Rock is amongs my tribe and the leader, I’d be ‘honored’ he picked me to rape. You see where I’m going with this? Don’t think true brutal rape existed back in Groks days. Men punch you in the face, women stab you in the back. If you rape me and you’re around the next day and don’t look over your… Read more »
MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago

I think Grokettes were more impressed by how fast and skilled Grok got the meal than his abs/biceps…

The Abs and Biceps / Vanity muscles thing is a uber modern thing… maybe 50 years or so. Useful and healthy as lipstick in the desert…

Kelda
6 years 9 months ago

I think not, Grokettes probably wouldn’t be out hunting to see how well Grok did, although bringing home the bacon was a good indicator of course!

What about the ancient Greeks and Romans, they loved fit bodies and spent hours honing physiques and gladiators were certainly ripped, I think vanity is as old as the hills!

MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago

Yeah, ultra modern thing means a couple of thousands years ago. Grok is 4 Million years old.

Even in the medieval ages, super body means super food. super food means super expensive. Wasn’t for everyone.

Gladiators weren’t self sustained entities… they were part of the culture, grown in schools, trained and fed properly to get that way. Hardly for the average Joe.. or… whatever the name was 🙂

joshuathehutt
joshuathehutt
6 years 9 months ago
I think you’re right. I’m not a lady and don’t dig the guys, but I think people have always used what they had to be as attractive as possible. The guy who has more physical ability is going to use that, the guy who is not as gifted physically will something else like maybe charm, or gifts (food if primitive man). And by how would you know if a guy is a good provider if you just met him. People have always had eyes and it is reasonable to surmise that the ladies would have been attracted to fitter looking… Read more »
Lincoln
Lincoln
6 years 9 months ago

I remember seeing a show about gladiators that said that they were not as ripped as they appear in movies. They used to have a reasonable layer of fat on them as it provided an extra layer of protection when they were fighting.

blogblog
blogblog
4 years 2 months ago

You’ve been watching far too many movies. The gladiators were typically quite fat. Their diet was mainly coarse barley bread.

Casey
Casey
6 years 9 months ago
I’d find it hard to believe that physical attraction has not always played a role in choosing a mate–from body build to appearance. The entire Primal concept is based on the idea that our bodies have not changed, rather the environment around us. So while widespread communication has certainly created idolized men and women based on looks (i.e. Brangelina), it’s merely an extension of what used to happen at a local level. Taking that to a logical end, Grok needed to look good AND bring home the boar to truly impress (who is Brad Pitt without his talent?) It appears… Read more »
Allbeef Patty
6 years 9 months ago

I don’t have anything solid, but I do remember reading that certain cultures were attracted to fat, because it was indicative of a good provider.

MichaelA
6 years 9 months ago

Yep, not long ago, a nice women was a fat one. Untanned!

Tanned people meant lower class… peasants/slaves…

Or, let’s remember the body or feet mutilations. China women feet? Elongated necks? etc… Humans did everything… what was ok or not it’s hard to judge now out of context.

Casey
Casey
6 years 9 months ago

Certainly what is considered attractive has evolved, but has a time existed where physical attraction did not enter the equation of choosing a mate? Where only functional ability mattered? Assuming, of course, the choice was freely made.

I can imagine scenarios now, but in all cases I could see them as settling due to an external motive.

Organic Gabe
6 years 9 months ago

Excellent post, as usual!

PrimalWannabeGirl
PrimalWannabeGirl
6 years 9 months ago

Yup….function, function, function: form follows function.

The environment of hunter-gatherers (as well as their traditional diets) would have a huge impact on physique.

There are a lot of pictures in NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL DEGENERATION (Weston Price) and lots of pictures in Elizabeth Thomas Marshall’s books about the !Kung bushmen.

The latter source reports that good hunters were the “prize catches” for the women, not ONE mention of appearance.

Sooze

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 9 months ago

It’s still relevant in todays society. You will always find young women with rich old men, never the other way around. For women, it’s all about stability and survival. In a modern world, it’s not the best hunter, it’s the most loaded guy.

Dave from Hawaii
6 years 9 months ago

While we can all debate how “Grok” looked in the primal existence of pre-agricultural history, you can get a good clue by checking out Weston Price’s book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. While he was far more concerned with dentistry, this book has plenty of pictures of “primitive” people’s physiques on traditional diets.

Rick Strong
6 years 9 months ago
Being very cut IMHO means calorie restriction relative to calorie burn. GROK may have considered a bit of pudge on the waist an immense advantage going into a paleo winter. In my 6 decades walking and running the planet, I have found that the closest I have come to being very cut were times that my calories were cut -intentionally or by default- or when I was less than 22 years old, or when I ate a predominantly vegetarian diet -and I don’t mean chips, bagels, soda, pizza, and pasta. I found that huge amounts of veggies did not do… Read more »
Sterling
6 years 9 months ago

I think it’s safe to say that there were some freaky strong, quick, fast, & intelligent individuals that made up grok’s friend and family base. I imagine big, strong legs and thick upper bodies covered with A LOT of hair. I’m gonna put shaving body hair in the non-primal category, although they may have occasionally and accidentally burned some off.

Paul
Paul
6 years 9 months ago

I live in Australia and it’s a shame to see what a Western Lifestyle i.e. our food and Alcohol has done to the Aboriginal community.

Miss Alpha
6 years 9 months ago

I want to thank you! Your tips and tricks keep me sexy and sane… and I really enjoyed that picture of the rugby players.

A primal lifestyle is a simpler lifestyle… and I really love it. Yours is my absolute favorite blog.

Jack
Jack
6 years 9 months ago

Do you people know what the “No True Scotsman Fallacy” is? Because, I’ve gotta tell ya, a significant portion of the folks commenting here are suffering from the fallacy mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty badly.

Seriously, Sisson’s got some pretty altogether reasonable theories, presents in a lucid and well-cited manner most of the time. But some of you folks on here really pull some of this stuff out of thin air.

cmacko
cmacko
6 years 9 months ago
You said it best that “the physique of early man was dependent on many factors” There is absolutely no stereotypical Grok physique. Period. “activity level, activity type, diet, availability of animal protein/fat, and the seasonal patterns, to name just a few variables”. Grok was ALL over the map just like today, (although there probably wasn’t too many 400 pound Groks). Let’s not leave out that certain Groks and Grokettes had vanity, and depending on what was an attractive physique in their culture, some were lean and muscled, others were fatties. Just like today. It just depends. Grok is irrelevant. Using… Read more »
OnTheBayou
OnTheBayou
6 years 9 months ago

Here in SW Florida the native peoples were the Caloosa. I happen to live on an intersection of Sylvan Drive and Caloosa in Sarasota, Florida.

Before they were (easily) wiped out in the 19th century, both British and Spanish explorers noted their stature, health, and size.

Turning back an environmental clock, looking over the recovering sea grass beds, it’s easy to see how a small population would have flourished here. All the fish, scallops, crabs, you could wish to eat.

Let’s play now, eh?

JW
JW
6 years 9 months ago

‘horse-riding, buffalo-eating Plains tribes were the tallest and…”

Remember the tribes did not have horses until after the white man arrived so this statement does not mean much. Mark – you may want to read the book 1491 which may explain the amount of game when Lewis & Clarke travelled accross the country. Further the Masai are not hunter gatherers.

Allbeef Patty
6 years 9 months ago

I think the point is that the plains tribes were less rooted to agriculture. If I remember correctly, the theory is that the horses allowed them to go back to subsistence hunting. Only takes a generation or two for that type of superior diet to show itself.

And I think the important thing to consider about the Masai is their diet, and the fact that until very recently they were constantly traveling (exercising) as they moved the herds.

Kishore
Kishore
6 years 9 months ago

I wonder if Europeans had just stayed home instead of colonzing, a lot of these lost socities and cultures who followed a more primal lifestlye would have still flourished and not be thrown in to reservations like in America.

Ryan
Ryan
6 years 9 months ago

Well Asia also colonized and the Inca and Mayan empires colonized their neighbors and used them as human sacrifice. Sorry, you can’t blame all the worlds problems on Europeans

jsadberry
6 years 9 months ago
Several comments here relate that there would be some variation between equatorial human ancestors and their cold bound counterparts. Part of the implication of this whole post is that we are concerned because of the “aesthetic” of the human form, rather than simply a pure interest in evolutionary body composition as an academic exercise. The development of our species occurred for nearly all but a tiny speck of history in Africa. To whatever degree our perception of physical attraction is attributable to genetic predisposition, it’s going to be found in the countless eons we spent on that continent, not the… Read more »
Kelda
6 years 9 months ago

Speaking as one that lives in the North of Scotland, at nearly 58 north, I still find the ripped look preferable but may be that’s just media conditioning! And I was born and bred from stock that hails from the south of England, 51 north, but 7 degrees of latitude in the scheme of things, irrelevant! And my 40 odd years, not even a speck of a speck.

A fascinating debate though as we all exercise our Primal Law 10 🙂

5atfink
5atfink
6 years 9 months ago

This reminds me of a BBC program I saw on a few years ago called Tribe. Each episode saw the presenter, Bruce, spend about a week living with different tribal natives from around the world.

I remember seeing these tribal members exceptionally lean & muscular. They had minimal sources of carbohydrates. One source envolved something like pulling down a tree & scraping out the insides & mushing with water to make it edible. It was quite a big undertaking to get the food source.

The tribe maybe called the Kombai of Indonesia.

http://www.papuatrekking.com/Korowai_Kombai.html

http://theoccidentalobserver.net/authors/Kurtagic-Folly.html

Juan
Juan
6 years 9 months ago
Great post and discussion. Whether we compare one race to another or one time to another I think we should consider the wild Nature model. That is, there is not — to my knowledge at least — an “overweight” wild animal. Of course, there are some that carry more body fat (walruses and hippos come to mind) but they are not “overweight”. They are the correct body composition for their niche. It seems that animals living in warmer climes have very little adipose tissue, save for the more aquatic species (my unscientific suppositions and observations). We were once wild animals,… Read more »
Pieman
Pieman
6 years 9 months ago

Mark, you’re right that the pics don’t rule out the possibility of emaciated rugby players. But the sport itself (league or union) would certainly do that!

jsadberry
6 years 9 months ago

Australian Aborigines, before the arrival of Europeans, were hunter-gatherers that weren’t living on marginalized lands and are a fairer approximation of Grok.

Before:

After:

fixed gear
6 years 9 months ago
How can you not mention the “Land divers” of Vanuatu! 😉 I saw this entire National Geographic program years ago on this tribe living very much isolated from modern society. No McDonalds, no coca-cola. No electricity. The land diving ritual is what amazes everyone of course. But what I found fascinating, is that these people living off the land (hunter/gatherers) with from what I remember minimal if any farming, were RIPPED. Without even trying. Many of the men were sporting 6-packs and single-digit bodyfat. It was THIS program that STARTED my journey which ultimately led to the primal diet I’m… Read more »
Simon Fellows
Simon Fellows
6 years 9 months ago
Err the only thing i will say is that looking at a body picture tells you honestly very little about lifestyle… we’re easily deceived and see what we want. Am not suggesting for one instant that the photos do not show h-g’s who eat relatively trad diets and are as fit as butchers dogs BUT I work with primarily crack addicts and last week there was one lad who was doing bonkers sans his clothes. If you had not known he was a chronic drug user and has been for a couple of decades and yet he is lean and… Read more »
Marta
Marta
6 years 9 months ago

The thing to keep in mind is that no amount of exercise will make up for a bad diet–Mark refers to it by the 80-20 ratio, wherein your physical state is 80% is your diet and 20% your exercise.

Rugby is an English sport, isn’t it? As such, its players are not unfamiliar with fish and chips, and other excesses of the modern culinary world (the English diet is known to be second to the American). So while rugby may provide them with paleolithic skeletal health, their body composition, I imagine, is still affected by modern eating habits.

Kelda
6 years 9 months ago
Yes, Rugby is LOL! As an avid watcher of the Six Nations (Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France) Championships each spring I note the following with regard to body composition. If you see the whole team lined up you will see MASSIVE differences in stature and physique according to the position on the field they play – much like in American Football from very lean, small guys to great hulks at 120 kg with higher body fat percentages. Mr Grok and I said only yesterday that they are looking less and less like they are at their ‘comfortable, natural’… Read more »
Zach
6 years 9 months ago
As always, Mark has written an excellent essay that discusses a question that many of may not have thought about, but after we did, it begins to challenge various definitions that we may have about health and the meaning/desire to have muscle mass, etc. It’s very cathartic, and I won’t speak for others but will say for me it reinforces my stance on the matter… I don’t care. I don’t care whether they were ripped 10k years ago or not. I don’t care if I get ripped, though I’m heading that direction without really being obsessed with it, weird how… Read more »
nathan
6 years 6 months ago

I live in Calgary and the native population here is in such poor health it is saddening. Their bodies are even fatter and less muscular than the white majority.

Sometimes I wonder if their genetics are even less able to handle an agrarian diet people of European decent? Or maybe it is just because they are on average poorer and poor people eat worse than wealthy people?

Vitamin
6 years 10 days ago

Australian Aborigines, before the arrival of Europeans, were hunter-gatherers that weren’t living on marginalized lands and are a fairer approximation of Grok.

http://www.ticaritrade.net
http://www.arabulburada.com
http://www.fullpiyasa.com

Vitamin
6 years 10 days ago

Australian Aborigines, before the arrival of Europeans, were hunter-gatherers that weren’t living on marginalized lands and are a fairer approximation of Grok.

luxury florida villas
5 years 10 months ago

To the stage and written well, tyvm for the info. I dont understand what to express. This blog site website is great. Thats not genuinely a genuinely enormous statement, but its all I possibly could appear track of instantly soon after studying this.

DAVE PARSONS
DAVE PARSONS
5 years 9 months ago

I have Not a runners, climbers,weightlifters, or ball players..(some are pretty fat)body.
I walk The woods..I am “Present” and upright and move. I hunt.
And I gather ala modern.
Solid and strong,maybe not ripped,
but pretty close. This body is the primal result…I guess I’m looking Like Grok to a certain extent. Daveman

Andrew
Andrew
5 years 7 months ago
Firstly Grok probably wouldn’t have been called Grok because early modern humans had considerably larger brains and were probably more intelligent than modern humans. His name probably meant something like “penis the size a mammoths trunk” or “teller of really funny jokes”. Humans evolved in the tropics where the temperature and day length is virtually identical all year. Around 80% of all people on Earth still live in the tropics or subtropics. Even in northern Europe Grok would never have gone hungry because he was always surrounded by a hyper-abundance of wildlife. He could literally throw a spear in the… Read more »
Jason
Jason
5 years 6 months ago
To those talking about the sprinters of West African descent, I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article a while back that tackled the issue. The main thrust of the article was about the general dominance of athletes from African descent. I don’t have the magazine anymore, so I’m going from memory here. The person giving their opinion (don’t remember if they were an anthropologist or even a scientist) was making the argument that those of African descent were on the whole better athletes because of a more diverse gene pool. His contention was that a relatively small population/gene pool left… Read more »
Daniel M
Daniel M
5 years 1 month ago

Not sure if someone has linked this yet, but this tribe that has virtually been totally isolated is probably the best example of “Grok.”

The average age is 35, but not because of health, but because a lot of them kill themselves to go to the after life! Notice the healthy physique.

http://youtu.be/ubKS4_mM3bo

James Johnson
5 years 21 days ago
I was a world class powerlifter for a number of years in my 20’s. I always envied the chimp and gorilla natural strength, which is enormous. Although, they are vegetarians their bodies are able to chemically convert vegetables and fruits into muscle. If we could discover this process, we could all be enormously strong. To understand how our anscestors appeared it is only necessary to look at current primitives in New Guinea, the Amazon Forest, Laplanders, etc. as well as examining old photos from various regions of the earth taken in the 19th Century. I’ve noticed, they are, in the… Read more »
Larry
Larry
4 years 9 months ago

Uh, warfare is a disease of civilization? I’m sorry but it is well known that hunter gatherer tribes spent a large portion of time “at war” with other tribes.

Now is it “total war” as we now know it (the means of production as viable military targets) like the US Army Air Corps action over Japan and Germany? No. Is it industrialized warfare? Of course not. Is the whole society militarized? Usually not. However warfare is a human condition.

Elsie Harrington
Elsie Harrington
4 years 9 months ago

Great article. I would like to mention, as counter to the heavy lifting/heroic physique corollary, that an indigenous Florida tribe, before the Seminole displacement,the Calusa, the fierce tribe that kicked De Soto’s ass out, were a shellfish hunter/fisher/gatherer people known throughout the Caribbean for being giants and having an advanced culture, occasional cannibalism aside.

Cody
Cody
4 years 4 months ago

I know this is an old thread, but dude, the only emaciated rugby player, is a DEAD rugby player. It’s like Sumo: if you’re under a certain size, you cannot play!

Cody
Cody
4 years 4 months ago

… or DARE not play!

Callum
Callum
4 years 4 months ago

I watched a show on the bbc a few years back called last man standing, that sent a group of modern athletes to compete against remote tribes around the world. The modern athletes did pretty well especially considering they competed in the natives own sport.

find a rich man free
2 years 11 months ago

And the unsophisticated one ponderously remarked,” I have discovered there is enough money in the world to keep it. I need to be in a position to mould your own circumstances, to transmute all evil into good and to weave, with a master hand, the fabric of your destiny. There is a solution to that and that solution can be very, very basic toilet how to find a rich man in nyc facilities available to them.

Luke
Luke
2 years 7 months ago

Seen the Bathurst Island men of the Northern Territory in Australia? I’d say they don’t look too bad for primitive peoples.

Tiana
Tiana
1 year 7 months ago
Yeah….I’m not sure I buy the whole “meat/fat diet = tall.” Yay for plains Indians having long legs, but that might well have more to do with evolutionary adaptation to their nomadic lifestyle. My tribe in Northern California, a place that’s prehistorically (by which I mean, like, a, mere 160 years ago for the less accessible parts of our territory) was rife with fish, deer, elk, and all kinds of coastal goodies. Plenty of meat and fat making up the diet. But we’ve ALWAYS been short. I mean ranging from 4’10” to 5’8″. But we had a VERY different terrain.… Read more »
wpDiscuz