Ardi, Myself

A Fair Point on Evolution:

Anthropologists can be excused for never passing a chance to take a swipe at Creationists, since there are plenty of Creationists never pass up a chance for a swipe at them. Aside from that forgivable bit of spleen, this is a very clever piece:

For example, there is useful attention paid to the reduction in the size of upper teeth [in the Ardi fossils now being discussed openly] -- the sharp fang-like instruments for aggression and defense. A possible explanation given for this is that teeth in Ardi's clan were no longer as important for male-male combat as in other fossilized and contemporary primates. And going on from there, it is suggested that Ardipithecus was less socially aggressive than the living chimpanzees we thought were our closest relatives, and other African apes. In addition, the canine teeth of males and females are relatively similar in size--in contrast to those of African apes, among whom male teeth are larger--and this suggested to the team of researchers that Ardi lived in a social system with less male-male competition than in other species.

Not only does this imply that Ardi males were morally more acceptable to contemporary values than other species, but it is suggested that an important possible outcome of the greater male-male conviviality could well have been greater male emphasis on their work as fathers....

The long-term result of all this is of course the affable males and comfy families of Berkeley, Calif., or Ann Arbor, Mich. How convenient that our evolution took this correct pro-social form.

But there's an embarrassing problem here, which is that Ardipithecus ... didn't make it. His politically correct social behavior didn't, for example, get to modern Somalia and Afghanistan. Somehow, rather than have Ardi predict our behavior, it seems humbler and more sensible to employ retrodiction--to look at what we do now and posit that, yes, this is how our ancestors behaved.
Well, yes. An equally plausible theory is that Man's ancestors had so long-ago developed the use of weapons that fangs were no more necessary to them than they are to us. That would be the kind of ancestor you'd expect, frankly, even if he weren't the sort you'd care to have over for tea and sandwiches.

By the same token, I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that this theory is unlikely to be true:
"We are so inactive these days and have been since the industrial revolution really kicked into gear," McAllister replied. "These people were much more robust than we were.

"We don't see that because we convert to what things were like about 30 years ago. There's been such a stark improvement in times, technique has improved out of sight, times and heights have all improved vastly since then but if you go back further it's a different story.

"At the start of the industrial revolution there are statistics about how much harder people worked then."
There are also some graves from before the start of the industrial revolution. I'd expect an anthropologist to have looked at one or two of them. People were smaller -- because less well-fed. Having lived among less-well-fed-and-smaller people in China, who nevertheless work very hard indeed in a country not-yet fully industrialized, I can assure you: they are not stronger than me. There are plenty of places not yet industrialized, in fact -- go see them. I've been to a few in my time, and I've yet to find a people anywhere as physically imposing as modern Americans.

There are also some very precise figures from the Middle Ages on how hard people worked, because the duties of serfs (for example) were defined and codified. We know, in some cases, how large the fields were and how many people were to work them, and for how long. They indicate a fairly hard day's work; but not Supermen.

As for the fossilized footprints, what's more likely -- that some physical fact like pressure from layers of soil accumulating above the footprints might have caused them to spread somewhat, or that hunter-gatherers who barely collected enough calories to feed themselves were really more fit than modern Olympic atheletes, who do nothing but train all day every day with the benefits of science to improve their performance?

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