Jamaican Usain Bolt ran the 200 meters in 19.19 seconds at this year's track and field world championships in Berlin, setting a new world record. The fastest man who ever lived, right?
"He may be the fastest man around today, I wouldn't dispute that," said Peter McAllister, an anthropologist. "He certainly is not the fastest man ever to have lived."
Really? Well, according to anthropologists who have studied 20,000-year-old human footprints in Australia, the ancient hunter who left them was running at more than 23 mph, just a whisker slower than Bolt. But, they say, that hunter was accelerating.
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To leave such prints, the hunter would likely have been moving through soft mud, and possibly 3 to 4 inches of water as well.
Apparently ancient aboriginals -- given spiked shoes, spandex shorts and a flat track -- would make Bolt look like he's going backward.
McAllister has written a book called "Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male." He claims we're pathetic specimens.
"I'm looking to puncture some of the pretensions we have about ourselves," said McAllister. "We think of ourselves as better in every respect. Well, I just want to show that we're not better."
McAllister claims a Neanderthal woman -- any Neanderthal woman -- could beat Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm-wrestling match. And he's talking Arnie of Conan vintage.
And a lack of brawn, McAllister says, isn't our only weakness.
We think of ourselves as exceptionally supportive, holding our wives' hands when they give birth. Well, the ancient Huichol Indians tied ropes around their testicles for their wives to pull on.
That's sharing the pain.
'Don't Feel Too Bad'
These days we marvel at the lyrical prowess of artists like 50 Cent, who has written about 6,000 lines of rap, remembers them and performs them.
But the last of the ancient Slavic Guslars, or poets, without being able to read or write, had stored in their noggins an estimated 350,000 lines of verse.
"If you put these guys up against 50 Cent in a battle rap, they're going to come off the victors," claims McAllister.
Back to brawn. In a rowing race, modern oarsmen would be whupped by ancient Athenians, who powered ships with muscle. Charlton Heston pretended to be an ancient oarsmen in "Ben Hur." In reality, he wouldn't stand a chance.
Modern javelin throwers fall well short of ancient aboriginals.
And modern archers, with their arm guards and concentrated aim? Well, apparently, Genghis Khan and his boys were more accurate from a moving horse.
You get the picture.
"I'm trying to give us the straight dope about ourselves," said McAllister.
Which is that compared to our ancient forefathers, we're pathetic.
"These men are not that genetically different to us," said McAllister. "They just had such a tough working life. Most of the loss of our physical prowess is not genetic. It's mostly because of the lack of stress that we put ourselves under."
Our working lives, on the other hand are largely sedentary, or at least mechanized.
"The book is supposed to be funny, so don't feel too bad about it," said McAllister. "Maybe we'll just think twice before we go around boasting that we're the best that's ever been."
And maybe we should hit the gym.