Paleomythic: How People Really Lived During the Stone Age

A growing movement seeks to reproduce the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: running barefoot, pondering polygamy, relying on a diet of meat. But even our ancestors never lived this way. And besides, modern humans have evolved.

RELATED TAGS: HUMAN ORIGINS

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The Paleo diet is just the beginning. It’s the gateway to an entire suite of lifestyle prescriptions devoted to mimicking the way our ancestors ate, moved, slept, and bred nearly 10,000 years ago in the Paleolithic era of hunting and gathering, an era Paleo followers associate with strong bodies and minds. 

Members of this modern-day caveman community believe the path to optimal health is through eating only what our ancestors ate before modern agriculture and a shift to more sedentary ways. Devoted proponents of a Paleo lifestyle not only subsist primarily on meat and eschew carbs; they also exercise in short bursts of activity intended to mimic escaping prey. Even blood donation has become a Paleo fad among the most dogmatic of 21st-century cavemen, based on the notion that our ancestors were often wounded, making blood loss a way of life. 

But new research reveals flaws in the logic behind these trends. As evolutionary and genetic science show, humans, like all other living beings, have always been a work in progress and never completely in sync with the natural world. If we’re going to romanticize and emulate a particular point in our evolutionary history, why not go all the way back to when our ape ancestors spent their days swinging from tree to tree? 

It is hard to argue that a simpler life with more exercise, fewer processed foods, and closer contact with our children may well be good for us, but rather than renouncing modern living for the sake of our Stone Age genes, we need to understand how evolution has—and hasn’t—suited us for the world we inhabit now.  

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