In the very first of our sprint contests, we find out who is faster…?
Homo Sapiens vs. Neanderthals
Many scientists and archaeologists have surmised as to who was quicker modern or ancient man.
Sprinting speeds improved massively over the 20th century but how would modern man fair against his ancient forebears and might they have been more successful than the Neanderthal due to outpacing them?
Peter McAllister in his book Manthropology: The Science of Inadequate Modern Man, draws on the evidence and analysis of 20,000-year-old footprints preserved in a fossilised claypan lake bed in Australia.
The prints show 6 men chasing their prey and suggest that they hit top speeds of 23mph!
That’s 23mph, with bare feet, in the mud, and probably carrying weapons or spears.
With some modern training techniques these ancient aboriginals would surely be a serious match for Usain Bolt who hit 27mph in his world record 100m time of 9.58 in 2009.
All this is fairly recent in our evolution when you consider that bodies suited to endurance running evolved in the genus Homo more than 2 million years ago.
It’s thought that the Achilles rather than a weakness was indeed our greatest asset in the quest for speed and endurance.
Anthropologist David Raichlen of the University of Arizona in Tucson concluded that a short lower heel stretched the Achilles tendon taut. That arrangement increased the tendon’s spring-like action during running and reduced energy consumption, enabling extended excursions.
This aided Stone Age Man’s hunting and carcass scavenging before spears were in widespread use, beginning sometime after 400,000 years ago.
In the slow lane was the Neandertal he was more robust and also weighed more with shorter legs and crucially had tall heel bones that put a less energy-efficient spring in their steps while running. They may have had an advantage over Homo sapiens in walking uphill and jumping but in terms of speed their anatomy simply didn’t have the beating of man.
AT THE FINISH LINE…
1st Homo Sapiens