Hunter-Gatherer Body Composition

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

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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101 thoughts on “Hunter-Gatherer Body Composition”

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  1. 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.

  2. 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

    1. 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!

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

  4. 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…

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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

        2. 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

    2. 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 :/

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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 long periods of time. Culture itself, we’ve come to understand, is a form of collective “gene expression”. Culture AND environment drove selective pressure.

        There is immense bio-diversity amonst human-groups; we ought to be celebrating these differences, not denying them. People of West African decent are the fastest sprinters on the planet regardless of socio-economic background or national origin.

        Why is this pertinent to this discussion? Well, by necessity snow-Grok just wasn’t as ripped as tropical-Grok was come October. (Please note there’s nothing “moral” about natural selection or in this particular theoretical distinction.)

        It’s just a funny thing that Mark, as astute and as competent a researcher as he is could not bring himself to the point of discussing racial-difference. This is the prima facie starting point for any discussion of what “Grok” may have looked like.

        Finally, contrary to popular opinion, “outliers” are the exception that prove the rule.

        1. 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 that statement necessarily accurate. It may very well be a reference to epigenetics, which is a genetic manifestation of environmental forces, experiences, factors, etc.

          The genetic adaptations to diseases such as sickle cell are a product of fixation or equilibrium of alleles and can be accomplished over just a few generations, not a millennia of isolated reproduction.

          What do you mean by the snow grok/ tropical grok comment? Tropical populations can actually have more body fat than arctic populations. Outliers either merit further research, adjustment of statistical testing, or are nothing more than trash data.

        2. 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 would be an (selectable) advantage to those humans who moved north?

          There are (measurable) genetic differences amongst major people-groups. West Africans have different color skin and greater muscle mass than say northern Asians. These differences are not all attributed to current nutritional values but “selective pressure”. Hussein Bolt raised in Japan would still be one bad dude on the track. Can things change over time (especially due to technology and/or nutrition) of course – evolution is ongoing, though fundamentally changed by technology.

          You and I are not going to settle this. In 10-years genetic science will have. (forgive my appeal to authority but this is a comments section of a blog after all…)

          Vitamin D production is an easy to appreciate, environmentally adaptive, racial difference. Is there really only one?!

          10,000 years of eating grains still hasn’t been enough time to select for effective gluten assimilation for many humans.

          Sub-Saharan Africans look different than northern Europeans. My point was so would a northern versus southern Grok. Therefore it’s a fair starting point to ask what race of Grok are we talking about? A “ripped” West African Grok or an Arctic Grok? Of course if we go back far enough there is only one great grandpa Grok, right? Adam Grok!


        3. 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 such a limited medium, but I urge you and everyone on this board who are obviously enthusiastic about evolutionary thinking, to educate yourselves in the subject before making broad conjectures on a topic about which you know very little. It’s great to posit questions for discussion, but to make blanket statements about anecdotal observation of athletes to “prove” a point is just ignorant. Literature is rampant from some of the most intelligent and renowned authorities on the subject: Stephen J. Gould, and Milford Wolpoff are a good start.

          Finally, just to address a few more points, mutations and random alignment of recessive alleles happens, and this is why some diseases still linger (celiac in your example). It is a product of immense variation WITHIN groups. Pigmentation differences are literally and fundamentally superficial on the topic of genetic adaptation or natural selection. You still cannot compare phenotypic traits West Africans with North Asians because of the geographical and cultural barrier. How do you know Hussein Bolt would be who he is if he was raised in Japan? You don’t.

          I believe Vit. D production itself does not change, but the intermediary amount of pigmentation alters the overall output of that system. Trust me, do not base a “race” argument on “looking different.” You will be laughed off your platform. To recap- read and educate, please.

        4. 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 Grok (i.e. Nordic/Celtic Grok, not for instance equatorial Grok – measured genetically)

          That if there was enough time for MICRO nutrient requirements (Vit D) to drive significant changes in skin pigmentation then certainly there was enough time for selective pressure to result in changes in MACRO nutrient processes (e.g. fat/energy storage).

          That if we compare the year-round access to food (plants and animals) of equatorial climates to the annual reduction in access to food (plants and animals) of the northern latitudes, we can gather that selective pressure on the ability to store a bit more fat would result in a Nortic/Arctic Grok who is a lot less “ripped” (in the Autumn) than his tropical/sub tropical cousins.

          That this propensity to store a bit more fat in anticipation of lean times has carried forward in peoples who trace their ancestral routes to northern latitudes (certainly those of Nordic/Celtic decent).

          That this is an example of racial difference brought about by selective pressure.

          PS Didn’t say Bolt would be who he is (WR holder) only that he would be formidable in a foot race BECAUSE of his West African genes irrespective of an imagined Japanese cultural upbringing.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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 mechanisms would have had adequate time to transform as well.

    Was Grok “ripped” ala Men’s Health? I think it depends whether you’re talking equatorial Grok or snow-Grok (in autumn).

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 between two men.”


  11. 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 may have gone a couple days between really big meals, which means he wouldn’t be able to sustain constant muscle growth. So, I would say many would be closer to Brad Pitt, except those who always seemed to find the Carribou.

  12. 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 off. And people danced for hours, so they weren’t just exerting energy in hunting and gathering. All that dancing would certainly have added to their physiques as well.

    1. 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 evidence of art and culture even within the societies that had yet to develop ‘written’ communication with the clear implication that they used creativity, play and brainwork – all very PB! LOL!

      1. 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 group. Which probably gets replaced from time to time based on fight results, death, etc…

        1. 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!

        2. 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 back to mate with whoever pleases them. Bonobo society is female dominated and everybody mates with everyone else (heterosexually and homosexually).

        3. 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?

        4. 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 social politics to consider that early men took whatever they wanted rather than a more egalitarian society. Abuse of women is much easier in an agricultural society because people have to stay put. If a woman isn’t treated well she can’t just walk away – she’d starve. But in a hunter-gatherer society, when women were generally gatherers then she could have walked away and probably did, as evidenced by practices in some existing tribes.

        5. 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.

        6. 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 statement chauvinistic. I just call it like I see it and I think that Michael’s opinion was partially informed by the inherent sexism that still exists in our society.

        7. 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…

        8. 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, that’s the way we do it now.” There’s plenty of evidence that past societies were far different than they are now, so if you really want to go into the specifics, then I’d be happy to have a discussion about it in the forums. 🙂

        9. 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 shoulder 24/7, you will be dead.

    2. 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…

      1. 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!

        1. 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 🙂

        2. 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 guys, just like today. a generalization. Just cause you’re busy doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy beauty.

        3. 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.

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

      2. 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 the modern day equivalent would be functional fitness.

        I’m operating on reasoning here–anyone have facts that support or undermine my logic?

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

        3. 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.

  13. 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.


    1. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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 the trick if I was also eating lots of meat -irrespective of the fact that the bacon, sausage, beef and eggs were grassfed/freerange.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 some phantom being as a model is retarded. Eat and be active the way that works best for you today, certainly not everybody has the same definition of the ideal body, or even has a definition of the ideal body.

  21. 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?

  22. ‘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.

    1. 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.

  23. 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.

    1. 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

      1. When did he say that he was blaming all the worlds problem on Europeans? That’s right, no where. You’re just projecting to avert attention away from his point, probably because it triggered you.

  24. 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 scant time our near ancestors may have spend in the harsh northern climates.

    1. 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 🙂

  25. 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.

  26. 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, so I see no logical reason to think we were any different, other than whatever minor local, racial, and seasonal variations may have occurred, which is to be expected. I’m on the side of prehistoric man/woman being generally more ripped than not. Look at any top predator in the wild today…

  27. 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!

  28. 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 on today. “Hey wait a minute, these guys are in the middle of nowhere, eating only things they pick or kill, and they’re in unbelievable shape, optimal health.” THIS is what brought me to the same conclusions Mark and other Paleo guys came to.

  29. 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 very well muscled and have seen this afore many times.

  30. 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.

    1. 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’ weights/shapes. They spend much time in the gyms these days bulking up with massive weights, to the deteriment of ball handling skills if yesterday’s matches were anything to go by!

      One of our top Welsh players has been out with an injury for a season so has not been training or following his normal (when in training) diet and has dropped three stone in weight. Top sport in the UK is now highly scientific with nutritionists and the like watching everything, I would surmise that much is from the conventional school of wisdom but the fact that these guys now don’t look ‘normal’ and lose considerable amounts of weight when ‘off programme’ I would say Grok never looked like them!

  31. 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 that’s happening. Eating right, working out 20-30 minutes once every 7-10 days, will sprint again when the snow melts completely next week. It all comes down to health, that’s what really matters, living life healthy… the happiness part starts to take care of itself after awhile, they in turn (health and happiness) start reinforcing each other. Muscle mass and being ripped will follow, may be, may be not. Who cares if you’re smiling from ear to ear all day…

  32. 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?

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

  34. 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.

  35. 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

  36. 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 air and be almost certain to hit an animal.

    There is absolutely no evidence that HGs regularly went hungry let alone starved even in very marginal environments. Life would have been almost totally effortless in the best regions – a permanent camping holiday.

    Grok needed to be big and strong mainly to fight or intimidate other males not to hunt food. He is needed as much to protect the tribe as to feed it. In virtually all social mammal species the male role is merely to protect the females and offspring. For example adult male lions are absolutely hopeless hunters because they are far too slow and heavy (up to 250kg). They live by scavenging and stealing food from lionesses and other predators such as cheetahs. The role of the male lion is to protect the females and cubs not to feed them.

    In many HG societies it is documented that females and children provide the majority of food while the men act primarily as protectors.

    Murder and warfare is by far the most common cause of death of adult males in pre-agrarian tribal societies. In many of these societies the chief is literally the biggest and toughest man in the tribe. The big man gets to eat the best food, have the most wives, father the most children and has the most prestige. The skinny guy doesn’t get a wife, eats the scraps and is treated with contempt.

    1. 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 Africa, and they were responsible for populating the rest of the world.

      Going on that theory, the person’s claim was that since a more diverse human gene pool has existed in Africa, you will always find the fastest runner, strongest, smartest, fittest, etc represented by someone of African descent. On the other side of the coin, you should always find the opposite there too – the slowest, weakest…

      BTW, I’m not making an argument here, just relaying something I read and found interesting.

      I think we could debate and speculate forever about how exactly our ancestors looked, lived, etc. and probably never come to a definitive conclusion…but it sure is fun to do it and to try to emulate them.

  37. 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.

  38. 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 main, lean and muscular.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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!

  42. 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.

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  44. 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. Our entire homeland was steep mountains. Even the prairies were on the top of hills. We, as a rule, have quite short legs compared to say Caucasians. Our leg to torso ratio is way different. It may be that we instead adapted to our environment, where maybe short but powerful steps were more important than a long stride. To say Native Americans are “this way” is always. 100% an inaccurate statement given the diversity of populations and environments. That said, images from first contacts are all relatively lean, from what I’ve seen. I don’t know about ripped, but of the old old pictures, everyone is certainly trim. And those were people still living off the land, as it had not yet been invaded long enough to be overly pillaged.