Health & Environment

Modern Man Vs. Cave Man? No Match, Says Texas A&M Prof

Today’s couch potato guy would be no match for the Neanderthal of 20,000 years ago.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M News & Information Services December 16, 2009

Modern man is a wobbly wimp compared to his cave man ancestors, claims the author of a current book, and a Texas A&M University health authority says he may be right – up to a point.

Today’s couch potato guy would be no match for the Neanderthal of 20,000 years ago, but don’t sell the 21st century Wheaties man totally short, says Steve Riechman, professor of health and kinesiology who specializes in performance and nutrition.


In “Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male” author Peter McAllister claims that today’s man, to put it bluntly, is a “pathetic specimen. We think of ourselves as better in every respect. We are not better.”

McAllister says the proof is visible in the form of ancient footprints found in Australia. They were made by a hunter of 20,000 years ago who was traveling so fast that the imprint was several inches deep, meaning he was running far beyond the world-record speed of today’s Olympic sprinters.

The author also says that the cave man of old could throw a spear much farther than today’s modern javelin thrower and even a Neanderthal woman would likely punch out today’s man in the first round of a boxing match.

“Many of the points he makes are true and spot on,” says Riechman. “Most of today’s men are completely soft, they are out of shape, they are overweight and they rarely exercise or work out. There’s no doubt most men are not in very good physical shape.

“But I do believe that many men today could still beat out the cave man in many respects. I would put up any typical NFL player or even a Green Beret against the Neanderthal, and I think it would be no contest,” says the Texas A&M professor.

In today’s sedentary, sit-at-your-desk world, many men – and women – rarely get the physical movements needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, McAllister claims. And he pinpoints the exact time that modern man fell off the healthy bandwagon: the start of the Industrial Revolution.

When machines started replacing human movement, man became a modern Sponge Bob-like creation that has morphed into a muscle-challenged softie, he contends.

“If today’s man went up against a Neanderthal, he would almost certainly lose, because back then men were muscular and it was a daily fight for survival just to live,” Riechman agrees.

“And it’s true that when the Industrial Revolution came along, our activity levels seemed to go down significantly. But I would still stack up today’s modern athlete against anyone. Look at the 100-meter run. The time to run it has gradually gone down decade after decade, which means today’s man is getting faster than the athletes before him. That’s true for almost any Olympic record. It suggests that we are getting stronger, quicker, better in at least some areas.”

The concern today is not chasing a mammoth for food, he observes.

“The concern is that we do not get enough physical activity, which leads to all sorts of problems. The obesity levels today are rising at an alarming rate, which means almost certain increases in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other problems,” notes Riechman.

He has a particular concern about the fitness level of children in America.

“Our kids today don’t get near the amount of exercise they need, which is why the government has started this ‘60’ program – getting at least 60 minutes of exercise a day,” he notes. “Today more than ever, parents need to step in and see that their kids get away from the video games and get some exercise. And it’s likely that the cave parents probably did not let their kids sit around too much.

“Evolution is about selection through survival. For man, survival has increasingly been about brains more than brawn. I think professional sports drives selection for brawn, and modern society drives selection for intellect as well, though modern civilization also supports survival with neither brains nor brawn.”

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