Tag Archives: Hunter-Gatherers

Overkill Hypothesis: Why Eating Antelope is Preferable to 500 Squirrels

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Eric Edmeades, author and Founder of WildFit, the fitness methodology training program informed by evolution. The grandson of Professor T.F. Dreyer who discovered the early hominid Florisbad skull in 1932, 1 Eric’s interest and business ventures in evolutionary biology were shaped by his grandfather’s exploration and research.

Together we discussed geoscientist Paul Martin of the University of Arizona “ Overkill Hypothesis ” which argues the Pleistocene extinction of large mammals worldwide was caused by overhunting by humans.2

We’ve made a contribution to this concept by developing 3rd order polynomial equations which allow one to predict total body calories of any mammal, if their weight is known. This procedure also allows for the calculation of total body fat calories and total body protein calories if one knows body weight. Hunter-gatherers must have intuitively known this phenomenon. In light of the hypothesis and optimal foraging theory, a large body of evidence indicates that larger and fatter animals generally were preferred by hunter-gatherers to smaller, leaner animals. We believe these physiological dictums are the reasons our Stone Age hunters frequently risked life and limb to kill very large mammals with nothing more than wooden spears.

A corollary to this phenomenon was originally written about extensively by my colleague and co-author, John Speth, a noted anthropologist from Michigan who is also a colleague of Martin.3 Speth’s idea has come to be known as “rabbit starvation” or “protein poisoning.” In the ethnographic and historical literature it was recognized that sole consumption of only lean protein without fat caused sickness and nausea to rapidly develop. The phenomenon was dubbed “rabbit starvation” because in the far North, both hunter-gatherers and frontiersmen (Lewis and Clark documented this phenomenon) knew that if small animals like rabbits were the sole food source, nausea, disease, weight loss and eventual death would result.4 Our research group has outlined the physiological mechanism involved and the dietary levels at which protein becomes toxic. It ranges between 35-40% of normal daily calories for most people.

This begs the question as to whether the Hadza, East Africa’s last remaining true hunter-gatherers, prefer a single Kudu or Gemsbok antelopes to 500 ground squirrels and why? The Hadza, unlike more northerly hunter-gatherers would generally always have had access year round to plant foods. Hence, sufficient dietary carbohydrate could in effect “dilute” excessive protein from small lean animals, so that small lean mammals could be consumed right up to the physiological protein ceiling without developing protein toxicity. This would provide the balance of calories stemming from either a fat or carbohydrate source. Except for some nuts and seeds, plant foods are generally poor sources of fat. Animal foods are poor sources of carbohydrate and are mixtures of protein and fat which scale to body weight via the 3rd order polynomial equations we developed.

So, the second question to ask the Hadza would be, what would happen if they could only eat ground squirrels without access to plant foods? Have they experienced the nausea of excessive protein intake? I can tell you from personal experience that the phenomenon is real. In an experiment I performed upon myself, I ate only water packed tuna and skinless chicken breasts. After only two days I started to become nauseous and stopped the experiment on day three.

An interesting archaeological caveat to this concept comes from the fossil record of Neanderthals who almost exclusively targeted large mammals. Perhaps, it was because of the seasonal unavailability of plant foods (carbohydrates) in more northern latitudes and the protein toxicity of smaller animals. Plunging a wooden spear between the ribs of rhinos, mammoths, aurochs, and other animals alike becomes a much more sensible proposition if your life depends upon the higher fat/protein composition of large mammals.

Further, the best available most recent evidence indicates Neanderthals could not produce fire at will, but rather could control it only by gathering naturally occurring fire. This inference comes from European Neanderthal cave sites demonstrating the absence of fire during some winter periods in which the caves were occupied. Further no archaeological evidence exists showing that Neanderthals drilled objects — a first, foremost and necessary step involved in the accidental discovery of the technology required to make fire at will using a fire drill. Without the ability to make fire at will, entire groups (cereals, legumes, many underground storage roots and structures) of plant food (ergo carbohydrate) become unavailable, thereby physiologically forcing Neanderthals to become reliant upon large animals.

So, with this background information, I wonder if there could be confirmation by the Hadza that protein toxicity occurs in their world, or perhaps a year-round carbohydrate source that prevents “rabbit starvation.”

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

The Paleo Diet | Dr. Loren CordainDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of five popular bestselling books including The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

 

REFERENCES

[1] “Florisbad Skull.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

[2] “Paul S. Martin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

[3] Cordain L, Miller JB, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SH, Speth JD. Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71(3):682–692.

[4] Seidensticker, John. “Human Problems from a Rabbits Viewpoint.” Rabbits: The Animal Answer Guide. By Susan Lumpkin. N.p.: Nature, 2011. 185. Print.

Why Is My Jaw Shrinking? The Dental Problems of a Western Diet

For 200,000 years before grain agriculture, the human jaw and the size of teeth were basically static. However, for the last 10,000 years or so, which coincides with the advent of agricultural farming, the width, length, and shape of the human jaw have been decreasing and changing slowly while the size of the teeth have changed very little.

So, what is going on?

Although genetics play a role, our environment has been the dominant contributor influencing poor jaw development. There appear to be three major external factors that are affecting the size and shape of our jaws. Two are the results of the onset of agricultural farming, and the more recent factor is the result of how babies are fed. They are:

  • Decrease in Nutrient-Dense Foods
  • Increase in Soft Foods
  • Decrease in Breastfeeding

DECREASE IN NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS

Nutrient-rich food sources declined after agricultural farming provided a significantly increasing proportion of processed foods to our diets. The lack of necessary nutrients in the acellular carbohydrates of these grain and sugar products compromised bone metabolism.1, 2

Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist, published Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in 1939. Price documented numerous observational examples of primitive peoples who had healthy dentitions and others who had various dental problems including gum disease, tooth decay, and poor jaw development. He identified that those with healthy dentitions generally ate nutrient-dense foods, and those with unhealthy dental conditions regularly consumed diets high in flour, sugar, processed vegetable fats and processed foods. Price implicated a lack of both fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals to be the most important deficiencies causing dental problems.

Since then, there have been numerous observations among hunter-gatherer societies who had relatively healthy bodies with little or no chronic disease. Those hunter-gatherers who continued to eat their natural diets had healthy dentitions and those who left their traditional diets and began to eat a “western diet” developed dental problems and jaw shrinking and had offspring with increased dental abnormalities.3

INCREASE IN SOFT FOODS

Soft food sources, which reduced the physical stimuli on the jawbones and muscles of the jaw, increased after agricultural farming.

Processed grains and starchy foods provide a soft diet. Recent research has demonstrated that softer diets created less mechanical stimuli to the muscles and bones of the jaw resulting in a slow decrease in the density and the dimensions of the jaw over the course of time. Jaws didn’t need to be as strong or as large if the foods were less hard and less strenuous to chew. Rather than happening over an evolutionary time-scale, the change to the mandible was happening on an individual level as each child was growing up.4

DECREASE IN BREAST-FEEDING

Breastfeeding decreased after bottle-feeding became commercialized in the 1800s, which had a dramatic effect on the development of the jaw.5

Evidence suggests early humans breastfed until about three or four years of age. In the United States in 2011, 79% of newborn infants started to breastfeed. However, of infants born in 2011, 49% were breastfeeding at 6 months and only 27% were still breastfeeding at 12 months.6

Breastfeeding provides optimal oral mechanical stimulation for the jaw’s normal development. When infants breast-feed, they form a deep latch onto the breast. They open wide and take in enough breast so that the breast is pressing up against their palate. Babies do not merely “suck” the milk out, but instead they use their tongue in a U-shaped curve on the breast. In a wave-like motion they “milk” the breast to receive its nourishment. Two developmental actions take place: (1) a rhythmic action of the tongue “milking” the breast, which presses on the palate, and (2) the subsequent action of swallowing. Both actions play a critical role in proper stimulation and development of the dental arches, palate, jaw and muscles. As the baby grows, the breast continues to conform to the baby’s mouth.7

When bottle-feeding replaces breastfeeding, the unnatural nipple on a bottle does not fill or conform to the baby’s palate, and therefore does not stimulate any widening of the palate to ensure room for future teeth. Also greater suction forces are required during bottle-feeding. This forceful action causes the cheeks to draw in, putting pressure on the gums and alveolar bone, affecting the position of the teeth. As the baby grows, the bottle nipple remains constant and does not adapt to the developing mouth of a growing child, further compromising normal bone and muscle development

BOTTOM LINE

These are observational studies, and there is controversy about the significance of the factors I have discussed. But, eating nutrient-dense foods that represent the nutrition of our primal ancestors will enhance our body’s ability to do what it was designed to do. In addition, we should include raw foods as well as crunchy foods like nuts and seeds to stimulate and exercise the muscles and bones of the jaw. We need to chew our food thoroughly. Mothers should breast feed their children for as long as prudent. Our health and our children’s health are dependent on these primal and natural lifestyles.

Dr. Alvin DanenbergDr. Danenberg is a periodontist in South Carolina who has been in practice for 40 years. Within the last 4 years, he has included Laser Periodontal Therapy as his primary treatment for periodontal disease. The procedure is called “Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure” or “LANAP”. The last two years he has incorporated a lifestyle program for all his periodontal patients including an ancestral diet to enhance their overall body’s health and function. In July of this year he was awarded the designation, “Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner.” For more information,  please visit www.DrDanenberg.com.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Tucker KL (2009) Osteoporosis prevention and nutrition. Curr Osteoporos Rep 7:111–117

[2] Spreadbury I. (2013). Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity. Diabetes Metab. Syndr. Obes. 5, 175–189

[3] Am J Clin Nutr March 2000 vol. 71 no. 3 665-667

[4] Sardi M, Novellino PS, Pucciarelli HM. 2006. Craniofacial morphology in the Argentine Center-West: consequences of the transition to food production. Am J Phys Anthropol 130: 333–343.

[5] Stevens EE, Patrick TE, Pickler R. A history of infant feeding. J Perinat Educ. 2009;18:32–39.

[6] CDC. Breastfeeding Report Card. Rep. Atlanta: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014. Print.

[7] Palmer B. The influence of breastfeeding on the development of the oral cavity: a commentary. J Hum Lact 1998; 114:93-98.

Food Choices | The Paleo Diet

I suspect that many of you may not know that in December of 2013, I retired from Colorado State University (CSU) after 32 years of service that began in the fall semester of 1981 when I was a rookie professor, straight out of graduate school. At that early point in my career, the Paleo Diet concept was virtually unknown to the world, and for me this life changing idea would still lie six full years in the future. I remember the moment distinctly in the spring of 1987 when “I got it.”

I was thumbing through the CSU student newspaper when I came upon a student reporter’s editorial about a scientific paper on Stone Age diets that had been published two years earlier1 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. The student reporter’s coverage of this scientific article piqued my interest, and I promptly walked down to the CSU library and Xeroxed this piece, took it home and read it – never realizing at the time, that this radical idea would guide me down a research track that focused my lifelong career interests upon the evolutionary basis for diet and health. In 1987, I had no idea that this revolutionary concept would forever change the way people would think about diet and health and eventually would become a worldwide diet/health movement known as The Paleo Diet, a term I coined in 2002 with the publication of my first book.

As this ground breaking idea turned into my lifelong passion, I realized that Darwin’s fundamental concept (evolution via natural selection) provided an organizational template, not just for all life processes on earth, but also for all organisms’ nutritional requirements – including our own. It became apparent to me that contemporary human dietary requirements were created by the same Darwinian process (evolution via natural selection) that has shaped all life on earth.

Further, I realized that to understand the optimal modern human diet, it was absolutely essential to understand the diets of our ancestors living in their native environment. And the native human environment is one of a hunter gatherer consuming wild plant and animal foods. So, as Boyd Eaton pointed out so many years ago,1 for us to understand the elements of a healthy contemporary diet, we must intimately understand our ancestral diet before it was adulterated with Neolithic, industrial and technological era foods.

This Paleo Diet concept is a magnificent and revolutionary idea, but as with almost everything in our 21st century world, the devil lies in the details. How can we really know the types of foods and food groups our hunter gatherer ancestors ate? And how can we know how the nutritional characteristics of their diets significantly differed from our own? Together with scientists from around the world, I have written extensively about these concepts in the past two decades.2-32 My research group and I have compiled the diets of 229 hunter gatherer societies6 studied in the ethnographic literature. We have even assembled the 13 known quantitative nutritional studies of hunter gatherers.11

The table below shows hunter gatherer nutritional data which I have never published in the scientific literature. This information comes from a 1948 study of Australian Aborigines prior to their westernization in a remote area of Northern Australia called Arnhem Land.33 As a prelude to the tabular information below examining the food choices of these four groups of foragers, I want to give you a blow-by-blow description of how Australian hunter gatherers prepared and ate a large animal kill. This passage below comes directly from the scientists and anthropologists who lived with and observed some of the earth’s last remaining hunter gatherers as they killed and ate a wallaby (a medium sized marsupial found in Australia).

Table 1. A Quantitative Description of Foods Consumed by four Australian Aborigine Populations before Westernization.

Arnhem Land Data | The Paleo Diet

© 2014. The Paleo Diet. All Rights Reserved.

A large fire was made in a depression in the sand and stones and shells were heated. Small green branches were placed on top of the stones and the wallaby was flung on these. After 5-10 minutes it was taken off the fire, placed on a layer of green leaves, and the singed fur was removed with a tomahawk. Although the women sometimes did this preliminary treatment, a man always did the subsequent cutting up, which was done with a metal spear blade.

The first cut was made horizontally on the ventral surface at the level of the anus, and the next on the dorsal surface along both sides to sever the leg muscles. Another cut was then made from the anus to the neck. The viscera were pulled out; and the kidneys, liver heart and lungs, and the omental and mesenteric fat were separated from the rest, and cooked on the hot stones and coals for 5 minutes. The cooked lungs were used to soak up the blood inside the carcass and then eaten. The offal was regarded as a delicacy by everybody and a certain amount of squabbling always followed its distribution.

The tail was cut off, and during the cooking was put on or alongside the body. The carcass was laid flat, dorsal side downwards, on the hot stones and ashes, and the body cavity was filled with hot stones. Sheets of paperbark formed a cover over the animal, and sand was scooped out to make an oven. Wallabies weighing 15-20 pounds were cooked for 25-35 minutes. Everything edible was eaten except the stomach and intestines. The skull was cracked open to get the brain, and the bones were broken to extract the marrow.

A number of details of this description are relevant for westernized people living in the 21st century. First, the entire carcass of an animal kill was consumed including marrow, brains, liver, kidney, heart, blood, lungs, mesenteric and omental fat and almost all visceral organs. This outline for consumption in hunter gatherer animal kills appears to be typical for humanity from the very beginning of our genus’s (Homo) appearance 2.5 million years ago.6, 7, 11, 12, 21, 28 yet varies considerably from the US and westernized pattern of only eating muscle meats (steaks, roasts, chops, ribs etc.) of domesticated animals produced in feed lots.21

Our current western practice of avoiding consumption of organ meats (brains, marrow, liver, kidney, heart and viscera) and only eating the fatty meats of grain lot produced animals causes multiple nutritional problems by altering the fatty acid profile of our ancestral diet, by reducing its micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) content and by shifting the macronutrient balance among protein, fat and even carbohydrate. These modern dietary customs lead to fundamental changes in our ancestral nutritional patterns that lead to the chronic diseases that run rampant in the western world.11-16, 18, 19, 30

So anyway, let’s get back to the topic at hand for this post – “One of the Few Quantitative Studies of Hunter Gatherer Food Choices.” I have re-analyzed the food data from this well known anthropological study of Australian Aborigines,33 using the best modern estimates for food nutrient content of these wild plant and animal foods. Below are the results of this analysis in which a couple of points become clear:

  1. Animal foods represent the dominant caloric source
  2. Cereal grains and legumes were not regularly consumed as staples
  3. Dairy foods were absent

Protein and fat were traditionally eaten together, but rarely or never with high glycemic load carbs, refined vegetable oils, and refined sugars. These three basic ingredients along with salt, additives and dairy products represent the basic formula for junk food in the western diet. When Australian Aborigine people became westernized and adopted “modern” diets, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, heart disease and other diseases of civilization became the norm for a once lean and healthy group of people.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

References

1. Eaton SB, Konner M. Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med. 1985 Jan 31;312(5):283-9.

2. Eaton, S.B., Cordain, L. (1997). Old genes, new fuels: Nutritional changes since agriculture. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 81: 26-37.

3. Eaton SB, Eaton SB Jr, Cordain L, Mann N, Sinclair A. (1998). Dietary intake of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids during the paleolithic. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 83: 12-23.

4. Cordain L. (1999). Cereal grains: humanity’s double edged sword. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 84: 19-73.

5. Cordain L, Miller J, Mann N. (1999). Scant evidence of periodic starvation among hunter-gatherers (letter). Diabetologia, 42: 383-84.

6. Cordain L, Brand Miller J, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SHA, Speth JD. Plant to animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in world wide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000, 71:682-92.

7. Cordain L, Watkins BA, Mann NJ. Fatty acid composition and energy density of foods available to African hominids: evolutionary implications for human brain development. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2001, 90:144-161.

8. Eaton SB, Cordain L, Eaton SB. An evolutionary foundation for health promotion. World Rev Nutr Diet 2001; 90: 5-12.

9. Eaton SB, Strassman BI, Nesse RM, Neel JV, Ewald PW, Williams GC, Weder AB, Eaton SB 3rd, Lindeberg S, Konner MJ, Mysterud I, Cordain L. Evolutionary health promotion. Prev Med 2002;34:109-118.

10. Eaton SB, Cordain L. Evolutionary Health Promotion. A consideration of common counter-arguments. Prev Med 2002;34:119-123.

11. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56 (suppl 1):S42-S52.

12. Cordain L, Watkins BA, Florant GL, Kehler M, Rogers L, Li Y. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: Evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2002;56:181-191.

13. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Lindeberg S, Jensen C. An evolutionary analysis of the etiology and pathogenesis of juvenile-onset myopia. Acta Opthalmolgica, 2002,80:125-135.

14. Cordain L. The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.

15. Cordain L, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, Hill K, Eaton SB, Brand-Miller J. (2002). Acne vulgaris: A disease of civilization. Archives of Dermatology,138: 1584-90.

16. Cordain L, Eades MR, Eades MD. (2003). Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just syndrome X. Comp Biochem Physiol Part A:136:95-112.

17. Lindeberg S, Ahren B, Cordain L, Nilsson-Ehle P, Vessby B, Nilsson A. Determinants of serum triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in traditional Trobriand Islanders – the Kitava Study. Scand J Clin Lab Invest 2003;63:175-180.

18. Lindeberg S, Cordain L, Eaton B. Biological and clinical potential of a Palaeolithic diet. J Nutr Environ Med 2003;13:149-160.

19. O’Keefe J.H., Cordain L. Cardiovascular disease as a result of a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st century hunter-gatherer. Mayo Clin Proc 2004;79:101-108.

20. Lindeberg S, Ahren B, Cordain L, Rastam L. Serum uric acid in traditional Pacific Islanders and in Sweden. J Intern Med 2004; 255:373-378.

21. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.

22. Abuissa H, O’Keefe JH, Cordain, L. Realigning our 21st century diet and lifestyle with our hunter-gatherer genetic identity. Directions Psych 2005;25: SR1-SR10.

23. Cordain L., Hickey MS. Ultraviolet radiation represents an evolutionary selective pressure for the south-to-north gradient of the MTHFR 677TT genotype. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:1243.

24. Eaton SB, Cordain L, Sparling PB, Cantwell JD. Evolution, body composition and insulin resistance. Preventive Medicine, 2009;49:283-285.

25. Ramsden CE, Faurot KR, Carrera-Bastos, P, Sperling LS, de Lorgeril M, Cordain L. Dietary fat quality and coronary heart disease prevention: a unified theory based on evolutionary, historical, global and modern perspectives. Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med; 2009;11:289-301.

26. Eaton SB, Konner MJ, Cordain L. Diet-dependent acid load, Paleolithic nutrition, and evolutionary health promotion. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:295-97.

27. O’Keefe JH, Vogel R, Lavie CJ, Cordain L. Achieving hunter gatherer fitness in the 21st century. Am J Med 2010 Sep 13. [Epub ahead of print]

28. Remko S. Kuipers1, Martine F. Luxwolda1, D.A. Janneke Dijck-Brouwer1, S. Boyd Eaton, Michael A. Crawford, Cordain L, and Frits A.J. Muskiet. Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet. Brit J Nutr , 2010 Dec;104(11):1666-87.

29. O’Keefe JH, Vogel R, Lavie CJ, Cordain L. Organic Fitness: Physical Activity Patterns Compatible with our Hunter Gatherer Genetic Legacy. Physician and Sports Medicine 2010, 38 (4):11-18.

30. Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.

31. O’Keefe JH, Vogel R, Lavie CJ, Cordain L. Exercise Like a Hunter Gatherer: A Prescription for Organic Physical Fitness. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2011;53:471-9.

32. Fontes-Villalba M, Carrera-Bastos P, Cordain L.African hominin stable isotopic data do not necessarily indicate grass consumption. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 22;110(43):E4055. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311461110. Epub 2013 Sep 23.

33. Anthropology and Nutrition, vol 2 of Records of the American Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, ed. Charles P. Mountford, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Parkville, N.2, Victoria, Australia, 1960.

Modern Workouts | The Paleo Diet

Very few modern people have ever experienced what it is like to “run with the hunt.” One of the notable exceptions is Kim Hill, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Arizona State University who has spent the last 30 years living with and studying the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay and the Hiwi foragers of southwestern Venezuela. His description of the amazing hunts which follow represents a rare glimpse into the activity patterns that would have been required of us all, were it not for the Agricultural Revolution.

Kim shared his story with me about a decade ago, which should be read by all contemporary athletic trainers, CrossFit enthusiasts and by The Paleo Manifesto‘s John Durant and Breaking Muscle’s Erwan Le Corre, both good friends and colleagues who espouse ancient activity patterns for modern humans living in the western world.

“I have only spent a long time hunting with two groups, the Ache and the Hiwi. They were very different. The Ache hunted every day of the year if it didn’t rain. Recent GPS data I collected with them suggests that about 10 km per day is probably closer to their average distance covered during search. They might cover another 1–2 km per day in very rapid pursuit. Sometimes pursuits can be extremely strenuous and last more than an hour. Ache hunters often take an easy day after any particularly difficult day, and rainfall forces them to take a day or two a week with only an hour or two of exercise. Basically they do moderate days most of the time, and sometimes really hard days usually followed by a very easy day. The difficulty of the terrain is really what killed me (ducking under low branches and vines about once every 20 seconds all day long, and climbing over fallen trees, moving through tangled thorns, etc.). I was often drenched in sweat within an hour of leaving camp, and usually didn’t return for 7–9 hours with not more than 30 minutes rest during the day. The Ache seemed to have an easier time because they “walk better” in the forest than me (meaning the vines and branches don’t bother them as much). The really hard days when they literally ran me into the ground were long distance pursuits of peccary herds when the Ache hunters move at a fast trot through thick forest for about 2 hours before they catch up with the herd None of our other grad students could ever keep up with these hunts, and I only kept up because I was in very good shape back in the 1980s when I did this.

The Hiwi on the other hand only hunted about 2–3 days a week and often told me they wouldn’t go out on a particular day because they were “tired.” They would stay home and work on tools, etc. Their travel was not as strenuous as among the Ache (they often canoed to the hunt site), and their pursuits were usually shorter. But the Hiwi sometimes did amazing long distance walks that would have really hurt the Ache. They would walk to visit another village maybe 80–100 km away and then stay for only an hour or two before returning. This often included walking all night long as well as during the day. When I hunted with Machiguenga, Yora, Yanomamo Indians in the 1980s, my focal man days were much much easier than with the Ache. And virtually all these groups take an easy day after a particularly difficult one.

By the way, the Ache do converse and even sing during some of their search, but long distance peccary pursuits are too difficult for any talking. Basically men talk to each other until the speed gets up around 3km/hour which is a very tough pace in thick jungle. Normal search is more like about 1.5 km/hour, a pretty leisurely pace. Monkey hunts can also be very strenuous because they consist of bursts of sprints every 20–30 seconds (as the monkeys are flushed and flee to new cover), over a period of an hour or two without a rest. This feels a lot like doing a very long session of wind sprints.

Both my graduate student Rob Walker and Richard Bribiescas of Harvard were very impressed by Ache performance on the step test. Many of the guys in their mid 30s to mid 50s showed great aerobic conditioning compared to Americans of that age. (V02 max/kg body weight is very good.) While hunter-gatherers are generally in good physical condition if they haven’t yet been exposed to modern diseases and diets that come soon after permanent outside contact, I would not want to exaggerate their abilities. They are what you would expect if you took a genetic cross section of humans and put them in lifetime physical training at moderate to hard levels. Most hunting is search time not pursuit, thus a good deal of aerobic long distance travel is often involved (over rough terrain and carrying loads if the hunt is successful). I used to train for marathons as a grad student and could run at a 6:00 per mile pace for 10 miles, but the Ache would run me into the ground following peccary tracks through dense bush for a couple of hours. I did the 100 yd in 10.2 in high school (I was a fast pass catcher on my football team), and some Ache men can sprint as fast as me.”

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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