Paleo diet plan: Ruminant beast on a stick.
Exercise plan: Chase, kill,
and flame-broil the beast
yourself. Sound good?
culture 10,000 years ago. The notion reminded Cordain of
a famous observation from the evolutionary biologist
Theodosius Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense
except in the light of evolution.”
Cordain came across the study in 1987. Coincidentally,
that same year the scientist and author Jared Diamond pub-
lished an article in Discover magazine in which he called
agriculture “the worst mistake in the history of the human
race.” In my interviews for this story, more people mentioned
that 25-year-old article than any book or study published
since, including Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book
Guns, Germs, and Steel, which came out a decade later.
Here’s the money passage from the article: “Skeletons
from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of
hunter-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a gener-
ous 5' 9" for men, 5' 5" for women,” Diamond wrote. “With
the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3,000 B.C.
had reached a low of only 5' 3" for men, 5' for women.”
Because height is frequently considered a marker of a
society’s overall health, many paleo advocates use the post-
agricultural decline in human stature as one argument for
their position. Diets based on foods that humans hadn’t
evolved with can often result in malnutrition, they say.
Why does this matter? The starting front court for the
Miami Heat didn’t seem to have a nutrition problem,
though it made the Thunder look a bit sickly. And don’t we
live in a country where few people starve or do backbreaking labor, and where modern medicine offers quick fixes for
the diseases we pick up from one another? And more to the
point, why should food crises in prebiblical times affect
what we eat today?
To answer that last question, it’s helpful to see what
hunter-gatherers did better than we do now. That requires
a quick field trip to our distant past.
164 OCTOBER 2012 MEN’S HEALTH
he Lindenmeier archaeological site, just
north of Fort Collins, is one of the few
places where you can see the world
almost exactly the way nomadic hunter-gatherers would have seen it when they
camped here 11,000 years ago. The site
overlooks a vast expanse of grassland;
on a clear day it would have offered miles-long vistas. And
because back then was an ice age, the prairie was covered
with abundant snow in winter, which made the hulking Bison
antiquus as easy to spot as a chocolate chunk in ice cream.
I’m standing on the overlook with two archaeologists: my
friend John Williams, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of
Colorado at Denver, and his friend Jason LaBelle, Ph.D., a
professor at Colorado State University and the leader of the
team exploring the area. This region has been studied and
excavated on and off since the 1920s.
Lindenmeier is best known as the burial ground for
hundreds of artifacts from the Folsom period, the height of
Paleolithic culture in North America. I knew from looking at
Mullins’s collection that these people took extraordinary
care in crafting their tools. Ice age people came up with the
most complex way to create each piece, taking extra steps to
show off their ability, Mullins says. Moreover, “They went
to extremes to find the most precious and semiprecious
stones,” bypassing stones that were more common—and
equally lethal—but just not as beautiful.
A prehistoric Steve Jobs would’ve fit right in.
LaBelle agrees, noting that the Lindenmeier archaeological site has offered up scores of sewing needles, along with
complex jewelry pieces. “These guys had plenty of downtime
to take care of lots of things beyond subsistence,” he says.