If you missed Part 1 here it is.
The show covered the bulk of the dramas and challenges we faced but one piece that was important did get edited out. When we faced our water shortage, production suggested that we use a skin, get rocks hot and boil the creek water. I argued LOUDLY against this. We had to hump water from the creek to the camp, gather firewood, and then go through the process of actually boiling the water. When you are in a situation like this every action needs a cost benefit analysis and this was (by my calculations) lunacy. While the rest of the group was boiling water, I dug a seep well. To do this you get near a body of water, move to a point say 40 feet (or more) away from the water, but that is a few feet higher than the water. You then dig a well down to the water table where you find cool, filtered, limitless water that is free of pathogens like giardia. It required a massive amount of work to process the one batch of water via the hot-stone method: It consumed a WHOLE DAYS worth of firewood (keep in mind, as we use firewood, we need to move further and further from camp on subsequent trips), it was also highly questionable in my mind whether that boiled water was actually safe. We were at 8,500 feet elevation which would bring the boiling point of water down a good 10 degrees. 200* water is hot, but it would be hard as hell to maintain a rolling boil with the technology we had. In the cost benefit analysis it did not make a bit of sense to boil our water. Most of the camp agreed and ended up drinking out of the sep well (Manu eventually made a pretty nifty filter that made the water go from a bit cloudy to crystal clear) but a few folks would not do it and opted instead for hiking over a mile round-trip to collect snow!! Snow that could still be contaminated by animal droppings and which represented a shocking energy cost in procurement. Now, the points that I think are interesting here are the following:
1-When I made a stink about this waste of energy it was pointed out to me by my (now) dear friend Lora that “everyone’s opinion has equal merit. Lora became as close to me as a sister by the end of the show, but I teased her incessantly that she was the “defender of the little people.” Cultural relativism can really bite you in the ass if you are not careful. All opinions, ideas and belief systems are NOT equal.
2-One of the most vocal reasons given by the main person who would not drink water from the seep-well (opting instead for a mile long hike to collect snow) was that I could not 100% guarantee that the seep well was clean. This was a recurring theme, folks balking at making reasonable decisions because there was not a “100%” guarantee. I’m not sure if my view of things is an outgrowth of being a scientist, pragmatist or part time Zen student, but I see the world as an ebb and flow of probabilities and cost-benefit analysis, with boobs & fannies rounding out the fun stuff. Some other folks seem to operate with a notion of certitudes that (in my world view anyway) do not fucking exist.
I think this is why politicians just lie to their constituents because even if you give people good information, they just make a bad decision anyway! I was not going to lie about the “100% certainty” of the well being clean, but it looks like I should have. The snow collector was one of the folks who left the show early due to exhaustion and fatigue.
Winding down and the final hunt
Day 6-We moved camp and Amy left. Day 7-We had an unsuccessful hunt and Robert left. I installed about 5 traps that day and was so tired every damn step was a terrible struggle. Sleep was pretty bad for everyone. The shelters were cold and cramped, tending the fire was nerve wracking (you’d fall asleep, wake up cold about 45 min later when the fire had died down…you’d scramble to get it going again then drift off for another 45 min repeating the whole process) and we were all REALLY hungry. I really wanted to quit on day 7 but I knew I was up on the hunting rotation for the morning of day 8 and I’d resigned myself to the notion that if we did not find anything I was going to curl up under my firs, gather firewood and not do a damn thing beyond that.
Day 8-We got up about 3:30 am and made our way to the area we’d seen the Elk on previous days. The temperature was about 34*F with a nice brisk wind blowing. We set up an ambush position in an area the elk used to migrate from the low valley region to higher foraging on the mountain. When we first hunkered in we knew that the wind was not blowing in our favor, but we spent about an hour there. I focused on keeping my throwing hand warm and pliable but the cold flat sucked. We finally gave up on the ambush idea and made our way up-hill using the sage and other low bushes as cover. I will say this: moccasins and leather clothes are pretty damn quite to move in. The wind direction held and what had been our nemesis now became our ally as we saw the elk herd up the mountain and the wind was blowing over them, towards us. We snuck up as close as we could, got into positions and let a few darts fly. I went high with my first dart, as did Billy. I had one more dart, sighted in on a big elk and tried to throw as hard, but smoothly as I could. Part of what the atlatl does is store energy in the dart via the spine, which is released upon launch. If you remember Lamar’s throw from Revenge of the Nerds, this is what it looks like. At release I could see the dart flexing up and down, then in flight the turkey feathers acted as rifling which caused the whole dart to rotate in flight. The elk I was aiming for was flank to me, beginning to turn away…I was sighting in on the shoulder, hoping to just get enough of a wound that we could persistence hunt and one of the other folks could get in some good shots. The dart actually impacted in the neck of the elk with enough impact to whip it’s head around. This whole process was about 2-3 seconds max, I was about 35-40 yards away…and time slowed down so much I felt like I could have thrown the dart, had a cup of coffee and answered emails, still being in time to witness the impact (or miss). I did not have a bit of adrenaline going into the whole thing which is surprising to me. I’m not one of the “cool under pressure” folks that I tend to admire. I’m always nervous before public speaking, usually need to void everything south of my clavicles in athletic events. I’m not sure if it was the fatigue or the knowledge that we HAD to be successful on this hunt…but everything clicked.
This is a picture of the dart-head which the tip broke off in the ventral vertebral column.
When the dart hit the elk I was not sure as to the severity of the injury but I was quietly elated…we might just eat that day and avoid 2 more days of starving. We started following the elk from a distance and after about 25-30 min it collapsed, apparently from blood loss. Manu and Billy finished the elk, which I think was shown pretty clearly in the show.
Killing that beautiful animal was really, really heavy. As I said in the beginning, I’ve hunted in the past, I have experience with this stuff, but it is always hard. I do NOT see humans as having an ordained “dominion” over the other critters on this planet. In my head we operate more as equals and that means I take my actions and how they impact the world around me pretty seriously. I’ll probably regret writing that but it’s how I view the world, so I’ll take my licks as they come. Manu is half Maori and very…spiritual. She said a prayer over the elk and we just took the enormity of the whole situation in. Then, Billy reminded us that we needed to dress out the Elk. Despite the low temperatures, if we did not get going we’d end up ruining the meat from the enormous amount of heat contained in it’s body. Billy had fashioned a stone tool butchering kit that was incredibly effective. We took out the internal organs, quartered the animal and left the rest for production and the ranch to process (everyone was eating elk for a long time).
Some folks had questions about the Elk herd that I should address. This was a private ranch, over 16,000 acres. The herd is fed some grain in the winter but is otherwise left to forage and run free. The elk are not tame and tend to startle and flee pretty easily as was evidenced by the previous 7 days of failed hunting. Dr Kurt Harris was kind enough to do a write-up on the show and he received a few questions/comments to the effect that the Elk might have been tranquilized! Ah…the fucking internet and never-ending-arm-chair experts. For you folks, here is the real story: The show never happened, it was all CGI…just think about it like CaveMan Avatar, k?
We each hefted a quarter (Morgan and I with a fore-leg (I’m guessing about 70-80lbs), Billy took a hind-quarter which was easily 130-150 lbs, while Manu took the heart, liver and a few other choice cuts we took off the elk. The whole butchering process took about an hour, with everyone of us sounding like we were running uphill…it was really hard work. The stone tools started off very sharp but were pretty dull near the end, we just made do as best we could. When we got back to camp production wanted us to start making jerky out of all the meat. I told them to go pound sand. We had several snow-fed creeks within 200 yards of the camp in which we cached the meat. Left in this state, barely above freezing in oxygen poor water the meat could last for weeks or months. This monkey was through dancing, I was ready to eat and relax, not make jerky for 12 hours.
Afterthoughts on the experiment
There are a few things I want to comment on that will address some questions and comments that folks made regarding the show. The first is that this should NOT have been this hard. Even with our relatively poor skill-sets relative to legitimate hunter-gatherers, if we had been at a lower altitude the problems of forage and cold would have been effectively removed. One of the scientists associated with the show made the point that natives in that area would have been camped perhaps 5,000 feet lower at that time of year so they could take advantage of berries, spawning fish and a larger amount of game. Production picked a beautiful location that was effectively a desert. I knew this going in but accepted it as the inherent limitations of the experiment, but it painted the foraging life-way more harshly than is accurate. The idea of the experiment was to see if modern humans, given a modicum of training, could survive with stone-age tools. I think we proved that we can. Now imagine if we had skills that were given to us from an unbroken line of experts extending back to antiquity. What if we knew where to be at a given time of year, outstanding stalking and hunting skills…and everyone collected their fair share of fire wood! There were a couple of folks that I’d see doing crunches and push-ups when I rolled back into camp from laying traps, or collecting fire wood. I kind of lost it on these occasions and would start yelling “firewood: Better than crunches!!” I was not a complete dick about this but it was damn frustrating, and I suspect you’d NOT see that type of behavior last too long in an HG group.
Related to the hunting/skill-sets/foraging I’m pretty stoked that this experiment pretty clearly illustrates the idea of “optimum foraging strategy.” In this scenario you must be keenly aware of how much energy you expend relative to what you bring in. The clear winner, at least in this peri-glacial/alpine environment was hunting. The uninitiated tend to parrot something to the effect “hunting is hard, our ancestors just collected plants…they are easy to find…” Uh, yea…you will also starve simply collecting those easily had plants!! Stable isotope studies show early H. Sapiens to be nearly as carnivorous as obligate carnivores. Obviously this varies based on location, latitude and season, but not only was it clear that we COULD hunt big game effectively, but that in many situations this would be the ONLY way to make a go of a given area.
Back to the Elk: For folks familiar with hunting there are various standards such as the Boone & Crocket criteria for judging big game. The anthropologists are still researching this topic, but it appears the elk I (we) killed is the largest land animal taken with an atlatl in between 15,000-40,000 years. This is because bow and arrow technology replaced the atlatl immediately upon exposure to new populations. At present there is no official standards for the atlatl like those that exist for rifle and bow hunting, but when those are formalized it looks like we may be at the top of the list.
If you recall (if you still care at this point…how the hell did this get so long) I recommended that production track some biomarkers and see how they changed pre-post experiment. I’m not sure if they already had this idea or acted on my recommendation, but they did track some blood work. I lost 16lbs over the course of the experiment (the initial 8 days actually) but did not see a remarkable shift in my blood work. Several of my cast mates saw shocking decreases in triglycerides and blood sugar, with an increase in HDL and decrease in LDL. Everyone lost weight on the show, whether they hunted, gathered or opted for crunches & pushups! I actually went into the experiment in ketosis, anticipating the starvations conditions we’d face. I never had foggy-headedness typical of a transition from carbs to ketosis, just the lassitude that accompanies starvation. On an interesting note all of my cast mates suffered extremely chapped lips…like hideously so. I never had this problem. Not sure if it was my sun exposure, antioxidant rich food intake or I got lucky, but some of folks were in absolute agony from their chapped lips.
Something I found interesting was that the fitness demands of hunting and gathering was much more “low gear” oriented than some kind of CrossFit, glycolytic melt-down. I had to go REALLY hard at a task perhaps two times in 10 days, the rest of the time was constant slogging up and down hills, and you carry shit EVERYWHERE. I did NOT see a need for remarkable athleticism. We did not parkour our way through the trees and in fact, one minor injury I had made it clear that too much bravado in the ancestral environment would likely get you dead rather quickly. I had a piece of flint get stuck in my right index finger perhaps 2 weeks before the experiment started. By day 5 of the experiment it was infected and about 2x normal size. The doctor on the show actually put me on antibiotics as I was beginning to develop infiltration into the connective tissue and things could go bad quickly. This is case in point for the low average lifespan for HG’s. Left alone, this could have turned into a debilitating, possibly fatal situation without antibiotics. Aptitude making weapons, shelter, tracking and hunting were mega important. Reasonable general fitness was important. A solid ability to asses risk/reward scenarios was perhaps as important as the skill sets…maybe inseparable from them.
I’ve only had one person attack me about the show and the killing of the elk. Donna Barstow (a cartoonist) somehow came across the comments about the elk hunt and posted the snippet below to twitter, using Red-Neck the way someone might wield a racial slur. I asked Donna if she had actually SEEN the show. She had not, and somehow took my comments on twitter to be a bunch of chest-beating bravado! The internet is full of angry, petty, ill-informed people. I think I’d have a large glass of hemlock-extract before having dinner with this woman.
Would I do it again?
Yes…but with a caveat. I’ve been approached to do 2 other shows and one longer movie type piece since this experiment and I ended up taking a pass on them all. The reason for this is that although I think Discovery did a great job on this show, I’m not going to work on anything that I’m not involved on the production side. This is the reason I went with Victory Belt when publishing my book (they gave me full control of the finished product). I want a project to be good or bad based on my efforts and I think there is a lot more story to tell here, so If I do something it will be in a production role.
Now, this may sound todo loco but I MISS living that experience every single day. My cast mates became the closest thing to family that I’ve experienced since childhood. One minute I’d want to wring someone’s neck, the next moment I was on the ground laughing. I also loved the simplicity of the existence. No email, no social networking, no god-damned multi-tasking (I fracking HATE multi-tasking). I’d work on making darts from willow branches and if it took 6 hrs to do a project, you just sat down and did it. No interruptions. I slept outside on the ground, got to see the stars. Aside from hunger and missing my wife it was awesome. I value experiences and being around people I love, this show brought all that into sharp focus. We have a brief time on this planet, live it the way you want to, with the people you care about.
Great stuff Robb. I especially appreciate the last paragraph.
Abel James says
It’s true – a simplified life often leads to more happiness than you would ever expect. With our modern, hyper-connected lives, it’s easy to lose sight of that these days.
Sometimes camping in the rain is better than the Four Seasons…
Love it Wolf. Completely agree with the end point too, it’s no coincidence that some of the happiest people in the world are those with the most simple life. I would LOVE to life a basic life in a tribe, modern life is waaaaaay too demanding and materialistic. Also kudos for calling up that vile cartooness “woman”. I think she’s mad as cheese……
Robb Wolf says
She is not right. In a bad way.
And on behalf of all the “red-necks” from Texas, fantastic job. Elk are magnificent creatures (as well as thoroughly delicious), and it was great to see the group showing respect after the hunt. Very cool.
Adam Kayce says
Wow, I’ll say. (A quick Googling came up with more than one incident of racist cartoons of hers. Dang.)
Ditto on the kudos, indeed, for how all of this went down. Thoroughly enjoyable on every count, Atlatl Robb.
Tim Huntley says
“start making jerky” – #clueless.
Thanks so much for sharing, Robb! It really helped put the whole project into perspective. I really wish they would have shown the seep well. What an awesome idea. I thought it was pretty weird what they did to the water and had a lot of trouble figuring out why they did it.
As for Donna Barstow, well, she’s just stupid. 🙂
Rock on, Robb!
Agreed! The seep well was a smart cost/benefit decision. Silly of them not to include it.
I don’t know whether it’s my experience in Girl Guides (Canadian/Brit equivalent of Girl Scouts) but a seep well would have been the first thing I thought of. In fact, I actually told the TV screen to dig one when the cockamamie boiling rock scheme was going on.
Very interesting and your notes are fascinating, especially your emotional experience, which wasn’t well addressed in the show.
Thanks so much for the awesome write-up, Robb. Just one question my boyfriend and I had over and over again… how did you feel about being credited as a “Writer?” True, yes, but so reductive! The show didn’t go into what you write about, or your particular perspective on the experiment. I think Discovery lost a wonderful opportunity to introduce your work. Not to mention the ways in which you felt better prepared than others (ketosis, general diet beforehand, etc).
Robb Wolf says
There could not be two “stars” on the show, so my background (nor anyone else’s for that matter) could be highlighted.
Primal Toad says
I would really like the see a show like this that would run longer. Say a couple of months. I think you can get away with doing stupid shit on a 10 day experiment, like the girl who didn’t want to eat the meat (what!!), but she would certainly have seen the error of her ways if the experiment had continued longer. I couldn’t believe the stupidity of some of the members. Some just seemed to lie around and complain.
You seemed to be very clear and logical about this, reading your piece I think you have been a real asset to the group, something that wasn’t really shown on TV. On TV it seemed you didn’t do anything except at the last hunt.
Thanks for filling in the details Robb. It was a great show.
Thanks so much for all of the behind-the-scenes information. My husband and I really loved watching, and wished that the experiment had been longer, to see how well you guys could do after being well fed. I also really valued the respect each of you hunters showed for the elk that broke your fast. It was very intense to see it die, and I cried. But I think that this is appropriate– its life was given to sustain yours, and I am sure it was SO much more intense for you all.
Thank you for sharing this info Robb!
ken b says
Robb, this is an awesome recap and it really is inspiring. It makes me realize how much shit I have that I don’t need and how much time I actually spend multi-tasking, or at least trying to.
Me, my wife, and two girls watched the entire show and were glued to the set the entire time.
Keeping my fingers crossed that you have the opportunity to be involved in producing the next project like this.
Trevor Martin says
I can’t agree with you more on the multitasking. One of the best times in my life was when I was in the Military out in the wild doing mindless tasks such as digging a hole for hours and getting to sleep under the stars.
Now I sit in a cubicle for 9 hours a day doing 10 things at once. While I’m writing this comment, I am also reviewing bids for a job, checking the emails I get about every minute and drinking a coffee.
Anyway, glad you had that experience and great post as always.
Robb Wolf says
I like ze post 🙂
“We have a brief time on this planet, live it the way you want to, with the people you care about.” Wisdom.
A first paragraph that contains a whopping 365 words.
Great information presented in a ‘wall of text’. Will result in over 66% of viewers failing to read it.
Great pity. I suggest a quick copywriting course.
Robb Wolf says
Paragraph breaks are an anxiety producing event for me. Here?! No….here!!
Erin C says
Eh. I’m a copywriter and I read the whole thing!
Marc @ PaleoTrack says
The content is so good that I don’t think structure really matters. Love the last sentence–I almost teared up, buttercup! 🙂
@mac No way! Robb speaks my language.
With awesome information density like this, you should never apologize how long the blog or podcast runs, Robb. It reminds me why I never watch TV–I mean, the video was pretty good, but the real story of the experiment didn’t really connect or convince. These two blog posts did, in a big way.
Thanks alot Robb! Really cool.
Robb, in thinking about what kind of a writer you are, consider this: I didn’t even watch the show (no TV, and too busy lately to dig it up online and watch) yet I devoured both of these posts with great interest. Excellent writers don’t need to worry about how many words in a paragraph (they have editors for that sort of thing 😉
Jen D. says
I agree! I didn’t watch the show but enjoyed both posts. I love your blog and podcasts!
Tonja Pizzo says
Didn’t even notice–clueless–365 words?? Who cares!! Loved the post and the show. Wished they had shown the well–what a fantastic idea. The meat water looked gross.
Would it be better if Robb broke it down into 125 Tweets? Would that result in him keeping the 66%? How about if he personally visited every potential reader and read a couple words from the post in between spoon feeding pureed food to them?
I’m a technical editor and *I* read the whole thing. And enjoyed it. I hope they DO give you a show to set up the way you wish
It’s a blog – punctuation and accurate grammatical implementation is not required. Content in raw form is better!
Seriously? Why does he need to take a copywriting course? I am a professional copywriter/content writer and I enjoyed every word. I didn’t think twice about the length of the paragraph because it was so darn fascinating. Robb has some important and interesting things to say. In addition to that he has a well-developed voice and style that transcends the “wall of text” you implied.
I appreciate your interest in having Robb improve himself, as we all can use improvement, but making a statement like that is not really necessary nor accurate. Plenty of other bloggers have poor grammar that you can legitimately critique (and post your backlinks to). He is not trying to sell a product, or trying to catch the attention of indifferent viewers. He just wrote a blog post about an interesting personal experience.
Samantha Moore says
Excellent. Wonderful, hard earned, intelligent. Thank you.
Thanks for taking the time to reflect and share your experiences. I’ll be sure to forward this post to my “great white hunter” husband who is not completely sold on the paleo/primal eating experiences. At the very least, he will appreciate your MAD hunter skills and be entertained by your plight. Who knows, maybe by developing a little respect for ya, he might be tempted to convert a bit more! (And monkeys might fly out my behind… but I’ll certainly keep trying!)
Best regards from the PacNW.
First, I did a blog post wondering about the red neck/hunting perception. http://escapetheherdblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/is-paleo-elitist.html
Will actively take up hunting and fishing as a food source as a result of this experience?
Based on all the postives I have heard in regard to earthing, cold exposure, sleeping on a firm ground, fasting, moving around at a slow pace and eating natural foods I have a question for you. After the 10 days were up and once you caught up on your sleep and food did you feel re energized, revitalized, and renewed or did you feel beat up and run down?
Also, were the bloodwork results posted somewhere?
Nerd alert. Do not read unless you are ok with serious nerditude.
100% certainty!!!!!!! WTF is fracking wrong with people?!? THAT is why we need to teach quantum mechanics and chaos theory basics to everyone who graduates high school. I assume the cast members are all high school graduates? It reminds me of the idiots who say “evolution is just a theory”. Duh, everything in science that actually explains stuff is a theory. Gravity is a theory. All the science that explains how your computer works is just a theory. Nothing is ever proven in science, just math. We do such a disservice to science students if people can come out of an American education and have that little understanding of the fundamental basis of science. Science is important because people apparently misunderstand their whole freaking life due to this ignorance, if they think anything that is in the universe we live in can be predicted with 100% certitude.
Excellent conclusion to your journey Robb. Thanks for all the extra meaty bits about the experiment. Are you still in contact with your adpoted family?
Great post Robb. If you find yourself putting together a project, I’d like to volunteer. My dad would absolutely shit if I had an opportunity to participate. We often camped primitively when i was a kid. I promise No Crunches. The repercussions of such behavior would have been banishment from the camp in primitive times. And I know how to start a fire.
How long do you think the elk would have lasted your party?
The cartoonist has obviously not gone without food for a week.
Enjoyed the show and your comments. One question regarding the successful elk hunt. Could you make that shot again?
Loved it Robb, so interesting! One question, did you ever get to talk about the whole paleo nutrition thing with the other cast members when the group had any down time?
Now I’m tempted to go as a caveman for Halloween…
Great to get some more details about the whole experiment.
I was glad to see you echo my recurring thought that the experiment didn’t have to be as difficult as it was. For people that grew up with the skill sets needed to live in the wild, food procurement was likely not anywhere near as difficult as it was for you folks, even given the relatively poor season/location. Not to mention there likely wouldn’t have been any “turning up of noses” at nutritious food.
It is a shame we can’t know how things would have progressed if more of your suggestions/ideas had been followed. Or at least have been featured more in the program (ala the seep well.)
Mike Fout says
As many here, I would have loved to see a longer experiment in a less drama-inducing setting, but this was American info-tainment, and you can’t win them all. The biggest thing I noticed while watching, even with all the obvious editing out of key conversations, was that the modern idea of democracy doesn’t always work. There needed to be a clear leader, and people needed to recognize that person. A chief of the tribe, if you will. There were a few natural leaders at the beginning trying to get things done, but the idea that everyone has a say in the welfare of the group only brought down the productivity of the whole. Everyone has to have a responsibility, and a consequence of their actions in the real world; because in a setting like that, you have to rely on everyone to do their part or the group suffers. “Herding cats” is a phrase that comes to mind.
There is no such thing as vegetarian in survival. Maybe it was the option of quitting at anytime that skewed the mentality of the thing. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t have been so polite if it were me. Did anyone have any prior military experience? Maybe I missed it. Good call on your training with experts ahead of time.
Great job, and thank you for being a part of the show!
“firewood: Better than crunches!” – hahaha! Please make that a t-shirt! In the same boat, I probably wouldn’t have been so nice. Awesome write up Robb. You can also add prehistoric bad ass to your title of “writer”.
Your point about fancy athletics getting an HG dead is so true, even top predators like lions and sharks will pass on taking prey in a head on fight, the odds of incurring a small but eventually fatal injury are just not worth it even if the prey is much smaller/weaker. Recklessly leaping through the woods is only different in that there is no potential payback at all…
That said, i am wondering if traditional knowledge of medicinal plants in your environment might have helped with your injury? Im sure local cultures would have had some effective way of combating infections?
Awesome! Especially enjoy the last paragraph. Truly I think this is a pillar to great health. Being happy and enjoying what you do a majority of the time. We have an amazing connection with nature if we just pay attention to what we’ve been provided.
Well done Robb! I’m assuming the camera/production crew was well-fed during the experiment. Was there ever any tension between the cast & crew about their access to food when you guys were starving only a few feet away. I figure they left your vicinity to eat, but you guys knowing the chow was very close yet untouchable must’ve had an effect on some folks.
Trevor Martin says
hahahaha. I can only imagine a litlle 5’2″ overweight kid behind the camera chowing down on a energy bar in front of a starving Billy. Thats how cannibals are made.
In this case he wouldn’t be “overweight;” he would be “well-marbled.”
Thanks for all the background information. It puts the show in a different light. Loved the show. Can’t wait to see something that you would put together.
JP Vakos says
Robb: That sounds like a great experience, that will have an impact on your future life. Shows just how much BS we have in our lives, that is not important and has to be worked around.
Thanks for sharing.
Yeah that Amy girl was an idiot. 100% my ass, I was thinking the same thing watching the show.
Great show, and thanks so much for the behind-the-scenes info. The way you describe the hunter-gatherer lifestyle there in the last paragraph compared to our busy, multitasking modern lives… that sounds so appealing. I would love to disconnect from the modern world like that for a while
When you lanced the elk I was ecstatic, mostly because I think you’re a total badass. You hitting the elk re-affirmed this for me.
Then watching the elk die made me want to cry.
I’m in total agreement with you about the probability risk/reward aspect of life, nothing is in absolutes.
Anyways, awesome article and excellent work on the show.
Thanks for the recap Robb. My boyfriend and I watched the show and loved it, but we’re were filled with a feeling that certain things were left out. You’ve answered all our questions. We would also love to see a longer show if you were to produce one!
I don’t care how many words were in the first paragraph, I loved this behind-the-scenes account of your adventure and was hooked from the start. It’s clear that you put a lot of thought, research, and preparation into this event, and you were an asset to the tribe. Well done, Robb.
Your last paragraph was brilliantly stated.
BTW, my hubby and I just found out from my bro that our former vegan niece and nephew-in-law have become paleo. I look forward to communicating with them.
Loved the show. And thank you to you and Dr Harris for hashing out some details that I was curious about.
Just curious, you had a recurring facial twitch for a good portion of the show that really stood out to me. Was this something to do with altitude, nutrition, allergens, or suppressed anger at your fellow experimentees? Or am I totally calling you out on a idiosyncrasy? Sorry if I am.
John Harris says
I’d love to see that happen!
Luke Terry says
Great stuff once again, Robb. Such inspiration to be found here.
Good points on Cultural relatavism. Nature herself is not politically correct, she favors ruthless adaptation over all else. Of course, kindness and benevolence are beautiful and blessed adaptations that work on a cultural level , but seldom at the expense of efficiency.
Being from Chico, and an archer, and an all around swell guy, I’m sure that you read and were deeply moved by the story of Ishi, the last Yahi. There is much to be gleaned from the Yahi story.
A couple of nerdy health practitioner notes. HG peoples have highly developed knowledge of native plants & their nutritional as well as medicinal uses. Your infected finger would have been handled with topical & oral herbs. In that biome, Oregon grape grows prolifically, and it’s Berberine-rich roots are an accessible and plentiful antimicrobial. Arnica, a fantastic anti-inflammatory topic, also grows there & is usually abundant & potent at that time of year.
There are literally dozens of other options medicinally. I realiz the producers had to use western orthodox medicine for legal reasons.
For the paleo community at large, developing local plant medicinal knowledge & integration into the lifestyle is both a pressing need & a practice that will yield big benefits, IMO.
Also, the chapped lips thing does appear to be connected to blood sugar control or lack of. Chinese medicine recognizes the connection between chapped lips & a weak spleen, code language for poor blood sugar management.
As a whitewater kayaker who over a couple of decades has ingested probably thousands of gallons of unfiltered creek water both deliberately and by misadventure without apparent harm, I would have just drunk out of the stream that fed the pond without giving it a second thought (though probably not the pond itself). The well was a good idea though I doubt paleo people would have bothered.
Manu was amazing! Your little tribe’s spiritual leader. Without her it would have seemed like just another “survivor” show, but I wished for more while realizing there was no way to really incorporate more on the show with such short duration. Paleo spirituality always seems to be missing from the conversation when we speak of Paleo diet, Paleo exercise, Paleo community and Paleo psychology yet shamanistic traditions are common among hunter gatherers so it must have been important for their survival.
I think because of the time of year with all the snow melt running into the stream, there was a high risk of urine/fecal containmentation. Drinking that water unfiltered would have been a disaster. Beaver Fever anyone?
Brian Kerley says
I don’t think the full gravity of how bad ass that atlatl shot was has even sunk in yet…
‘Something I found interesting was that the fitness demands of hunting and gathering was much more “low gear” oriented than some kind of CrossFit, glycolytic melt-down.’
Nonsense! Don’t you know that throwing and catching a 20lb ball against a wall until you puke is just like HG’s throwing rocks at a bird nest to gather eggs?
I loved the show! I hope they do another one but make it a longer series.
6th Listener says
Fantastic couple of posts on the show. Thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts up.
I was going to ask if the elk you hit is the one you were even aiming for but you answered that. Not sure how you feel, but that neck hit seemed to be a one in a million shot? Didn’t realize it took the elk that long to go down but I was wondering why you and Billy weren’t doing a happy dance after it went down! Of course emotions are different when you are there in the moment, but I was completely out of my mind when you hit that thing and took it down! What an amazing and crazy experience.
“We did not parkour our way through the trees ” lol great line. Hope to see you in similar projects in the future. Well done.
Chris D says
Just curious. Do you wear glasses/contact lenses? If yes, how did that play out on the show as far as wearing/not wearing them? Did anybody on the show wear them? I only ask because i wear them, and when i imagine myself in an HG culture , i imagine myself probably ending up as the tribe seep well/cesspool digger due to my crap eyesight.
nick hanson says
So why didn’t they put your name in at the beginning like everyone else. You said somewhere that you would answer that. Maybe you already did and I just missed it.
Matt Lentzner says
Liked your comment about energy systems used. It seems to me that “real life” is either on cruise or full throttle. If you need to get from point A to point B then you want to do it in the most calorically efficient way – walking. If you need to kill an animal for food or protection then it’s going to be a max effort.
I don’t see a lot of use for the middle ground. Yeah, you’ve got MMA and such but people forget that those relatively even matchups are artificial. It’s a spectator sport. If it’s your ass on the line then you want it to be as mismatched (in your favor) and over as quickly as possible.
Unrelated, but people forget how exhausting it is to walk up and down hills on uneven ground all day. 🙂
Do you know of any other folks blogging or posting about their experiences? Might be interesting to see what they say after… (Not Spurlock, though, he just irritates me…. smug liar that he is. Wish Discovery would show Fat Head!)
Me and my husband had our own “primitive” adventure recently in the summer in Colorado at 10,000ft mountain side.unfortunately no running water close to the cabin, but then again we weren’t trying to be cavemen just escaping the rat race,simplifying our time together. Lol. I’m a bow and arrow girl and now I want to learn that attatal. But may have to stick to my guns in the mean time. we ate and foraged some and did lots of wood collecting, chopping, moving, and even moving rocks for the fire pit. We lost a little weight, but this was intended to boost our paleo style more anyways.I can’t imagine any caveman doing crunches or pushups!?! I mean Really? And as far as that water, one the well would have been just fine, but the whole skin thing think was for making stews than drinking water. I’d probably waded into moving water and drank from that. I’ve watched animals, and most will wade into the moving water to drink over the non moving water which is often contaminated and likely to contain other hidden dangers. And great job and that elk, wish I could had a slice of that too! In some ways I wish I could have participated in such a thing, but can see I’d also want some control. And really they should have not even taken on anyone who was going to so anal as need fish cleaned and trimmed, and 100% assurances. But then again it’s more about drama not science anymore.
Primal Toad says
I watched the show but thanks for writing these 2 follow up posts. It’s fun to read your perspective on it all. I would love to see a show like this that is more realistic. As you said, the conditions were pretty bad and a HG tribe would not have been where you are. It would have been fun to see you guys more active. To see you eating berries and having more fun.
This is a start but I am excited to see a better version. I would LOVE to be cast member. Robb, start creating!
Debbie H says
Rbb – Fascinating post. I unfortunately saw only part of the show, but my husband saw the entire thing and loved it. One small request — if you could eliminate your use of the f-bomb in your posts, thatould allow me to share them with a wider audience. As it is, I know some folks who would greatly benefit from your posts but who would be totally offended and would miss the message.
Keep up the great work!
Robb Wolf says
Thanks Debbie! I’ll see about cleaning up my language but when I get rolling it’s just how I am. If folks are too puritanical to see passion in writing (or speaking) they may need to get the message from someone else ;0)
Bill Strahan says
Any chance you’ll comment on the longer-term ramifications of this experiment? Many people propose a several day fast as a way of periodically resetting some biological processes and giving the body a chance to dismantle some tissues that need to be torn down so they can be rebuilt.
I’m sure that traditionally occasional multi-day fasts occurred in spite of the best planning and practices that emerged in hunter gatherer tribes. I wonder if our bodies became tuned to turn that to an advantage, or if it simply more cost than benefit.
I’m sure you had less fat after the experience, but also less muscle. Has the muscle come back? Strength? What about the all-important Fran time? 😉
Okay, ignoring that last question, I really am curious how you see this panning out, and if you would ever consider advocating (as some do) a multi day fast every year or couple of years. Part of me hopes not, since I’d probably do it, and it doesn’t sound like a party.
I downloaded the shows from iTunes and really wish they had shown more – like the seep well! You recap of the experience made parts of the show make more sense and it is much appreciated!
I am listening to all the podcasts from the beginning and am up to 30. When I get caught up I drop a line!
Thanks for everything!
Loved the show Robb! I don’t mean to be rude but what was up with the facial twitching? Bugs? Or just a nervous tick?
Robb Wolf says
Dry air! Really irritated nose.
Ruth S. says
Hmmmm You and Aaron Rogers. Great throwing arms 🙂
i just realized that since on a paleo diet (ard 2 years) my lips dont chap anymore in the winter!
I didn’t realize it until you mentioned it – but mine have been much better as well. (since going paleo).
hey Robb, you familiar w Michael Rose (evolutionary biologist?). He’s a proponent of Paleo, w one caveat: http://55theses.org/2011/03/18/thesis-50/
I guess this is where a properly designed scientific study could help shed light on matters such as these.
Robb Wolf says
Yea, I like his stuff and I suspect he has influenced Art Devany…but there are a few things I’d like to talk to him about.
It’s interesting to note that he hit upon the merits of paleo after studying the aging process (what affects it, what prolongs it,etc).
The crux of this thesis (#50) is that the forces of natural selection are greatest from birth to the reproductive years.
For example, my ancestral lineage hails from an agricultural lifestyle for at least 3500 years. Those ancestors of mine who had issues w neolithic foods BEFORE reaching reproductive years most likely died at a young age and hence those genes didn’t get passed on. However, after the age of 35 or so, (due to diff gene expression?) this diet becomes suboptimal and a HG lifestyle becomes the ideal.
If we’re talking n=1, this is exactly what I see, teenagers and 20 somethings who do fine on a neolithic diet (minus the modern industrially processed crap). Look at the avg age of paleo followers. Mostly 30s and up. V few 20 somethings, unless they have serious health issues. M Berkhan (5%bf) is only 31? lets see how he fares at 41 w grains.
He also mentions the capability of paleo to prolong lifespans AND to bring about an earlier cessation of aging! (Its been noted by biologists that among healthy organisms in a variety of species that after a certain point in aging that the process seems to hit a plateau- physiological function stops declining! Look at human centenarians-from about the age of 70 to well over 100, they dont really decline that much. But M.Rose is saying that following a paleo diet one might hit that plateau at about 50-60 years of age.
Think Mark Sisson living to 95, yet maintaining his mental and physical attributes– der altsteinzeit ubermensch indeed!
It’d be great if you could interview him on an upcoming podcast! (He actually quotes you Mr Wolf on his most recent blog).
Patti Jeanne says
I really was laughing at the thought of someone getting their workout in on a mountain instead of foraging or finding fire wood. Too funny. I hope someone does another experiment and does it a little more accurately like BELOW 8000 feet.
Too bad they didn’t show you guys cracking each other up at the campfire. That really is the best part of shutting everything off, you get simple things done and enjoy those around you. Now I need to get off the computer and go play with my tribe!
Robb Wolf says
We did have some damn funny moments!!
Barrett Updegraff says
Atlatl-Robb! Nice shot. Did you try and argue for a different title from ‘Writer’? Like, maybe ‘ADA/USDA Anti-christ? ‘As much as I don’t like Morgan Spurlock, he was pretty tolerable and informative.
Robb Wolf says
I had no idea whatsoever how it was going to roll out. Kinda spookie!!
Gary Johnson says
I taped the show and finally got to watch it. Very impressive!
I was dumbfounded at the one lady that refused to eat red meat. Why even participate in this expirement? Did she think cavewomen were vegetarians?
I was glad the team got to experience a low-tech killing, butchering, and eating of the elk. I have never killed such a large animal, but I would not have a moment’s hesitation if I were starving.
In a sick way (I know I’m sick), I was hoping someone would kill something less tasty (like a skunk) and eat it anyway, proving that hunger is the best spice.
Anyway, good job!
Debbie Young says
Robb I loved the show and I have to say is “MORE ROBB WOLF!” (said as in “More CowBell!!”
incredible take down of the Elk too.
Tab Knight says
So one of the things that struck me after the elk went down was how far most people are removed from the food chain. You know what I mean? How the average person that sits down at McDonalds never realizes that their Big Mac with cheese is a result of someone somewhere killing a cow and processing it for their consumption. All done in a, hopefully, temperature controlled facility so decomposition doesn’t set in. Honestly I have an immense amount of respect for the animal taken but…allright got it your moved, now process it and have some respect for the life you just took and use every part of the animal before it becomes coyote and crow food. Think you are spot on Robb with all your comments about others on the show and how they really don’t get the big picture about how “not wanting to eat meat” or “wanting to hike a long distance to eat snow” shows how most people have no skills for survival outside of driving to Wal-Mart or McDonalds for their substanance in life. Guess thats the hard part of our modern life some people are born having known the hardships to raising grass fed beef and appreciating the nourishment it provides, and rancher who makes their living from it’s life. Conversely a majority of people live in the magic land of supermarkets where meat shows up with no idea of it’s origin other than it’s packaged and at the store and are stuck with the pharmecutical cows they eat…sad epithet for the modern American!
Outstanding show, glad you were part of it, have it saved on DVR to watch again and again!
You obviously haven’t been to Cluckin Chicken
Big macs aren’t made from cows, they’re made from soylent green 🙂
Tab Knight says
Haven’t seen the cluckin chicken one that was too funny!! Phil Hartman was the man!
Robb, have you ever read “One Second After”, by William Forchsten? While watching the show I found myself thinking about our separation from our food sources (like some of the other posters above did). In One Second After, an electromagnetic pulse from a nuke wipes out a good chunk of the electrical systems in the USA, causing a total collapse of the distribution system. Chaos ensues. It’s a great “make ya think” book.
Thank you for taking the time to elaborate on the experience. It was evident that the show did a poor job depicting the actual events. They seemed to think that they had to push the situation to produce sufficient “media drama”. A pity.
Kudos to you, man.
“Cultural relativism can really bite you in the ass if you are not careful. All opinions, ideas and belief systems are NOT equal.”
What about the ancient chinese wisdom of crisis equalling opportunity?
If you threw a project up on kickstarter.com For a Robb Wolf produced tv or movie documentary, I’d donate! Also, great write-up!
Petros Constantopoulos says
nice job on the show man… I just wish it was you narrating and leading the show “being the star” instead of spurlock 😛 could have actually gotten a lot of useful info out to the masses that way.
Still enjoyed it and yes, hope you can produce/host some of ur own shows/documentaries or something soon 🙂
Thanks for this excellent post Rob – this (and the comments below) answered a lot of the questions i had from watching the show, especially as they did not really identify your true knowledge and profession as a motivator and educator!
Sam Knox says
“…one minor injury I had made it clear that too much bravado in the ancestral environment would likely get you dead rather quickly.”
This is an excellent point that seems to be overlooked in Paleo-centric exercise programs.
Whatever else our Paleolithic ancestors might have done, they sure as hell wouldn’t have done anything likely to result in a debilitating injury unless it was absolutey necessary.
Thanks for sharing this experience. I am still having a hard time with Discovery Channel’s misguided and intellectually dishonest portrayal of caveman living on mainly fruit and nuts instead of meat. I mean look at this drivel!: http://curiosity.discovery.com/topic/ecology-and-the-environment/5-reasons-follow-caveman-diet1.htm. Calling the caveman diet “living like a forager” is added insult to the fact that they sent you to an 8,000 foot elevation desert where foraging is so limited. Not to mention their live like a caveman quiz http://curiosity.discovery.com/topic/ecology-and-the-environment/living-like-a-caveman-quiz.htm where they say “Although cavemen hunted, and gathered seeds and fruits, the main staple of their diet was tubers — yams, sweet potatoes, radishes, ginger and rutabaga.” Really, could you survive all that calorie expenditures while eating radishes and ginger?
Just because it has become “politically incorrect” to eat meat doesn’t mean they can revise history and now tell everyone that meat wasn’t eaten very often in paleolithic times.
“…I see the world as an ebb and flow of probabilities and cost-benefit analysis, with boobs & fannies rounding out the fun stuff…”
wW see eye to eye Robb. Must be why I like this stuff. Thanks for all of your work!
that quote is also applicable to a Las Vegas weekend trip; it’s quite paradoxical that Robb hates that place!
Robb Wolf says
I’m warming up to Vegas.
Brent Kearney says
All kinds of awesome. Well done!
Tracy Longacre says
Thanks Robb! I really appreciated this ’cause I’m outside the US and don’t have a video-worthy Internet connection, so this is as close as I can get to watching the show!
Couple of things struck me:
1) I think you might, uhm, cough cough, be making a case that we were in fact “born to run” — not just for hunting, but for moving around generally.
2) I’ve always sort of wondered “what did people *do* all day”? Well, mostly, “what did men do all day”? And now I have a much clearer sense. I mean, if your tools are totally worn out after prepping one kill, you’re gonna spend a lot of time making, repairing, sharpening tools (just for one example).
I set up my Tivo, and it did not record the caveman episodes…. apparently the Discovery Channel website epis did not correspond with the aired episode numbers. At any rate, where can I see the show?? I searched, can’t find a replay anywhere. Couldn’t even buy from amazon thru the Tivo! So bummed!
Super excited to see it!
Doug S. says
If you go to Amazon.com, you can find the show there. The title is “Curiosity” and you are looking for Season 1, Episodes 7 & 8.
You can watch it right on your PC if you can’t get it through your TiVo.
Or, just set up a Wishlist on your TiVo with “caveman” as a title word. If they air it again, your TiVo will record it. That’s what I did!
Or, it is available on iTunes.
Chuck Charbeneau says
You and Cody Ludin should do a show. 🙂
Great work, excellent write up and, as always, the consummate professional…now if you could just get Dr. Jones to come around.
Robb, absolutely amazing post.
It occurs to me that this fact:
it appears the elk I (we) killed is the largest land animal taken with an atlatl in between 15,000-40,000 years.
…is the makings of a fascinating talk that any number of hunting groups would love to hear.
I don’t know if you have an agent for public speaking, but you might look into it, as it pays well and you provide great value…and might have a good time!
I was proud of you on the show! The hunting of the elk was a powerful scene – I can’t even fathom what it was like for you guys then, in the moment.
One reason why I hate the internetz is because of people like the cartoonist. Judging without having seen the show! You were practically sobbing recalling the experience of taking down the elk… you are far from heartless.
Graham King says
One thing that I got out of the show was how “caveman” would spend their days. The most important things to do were to set up camp, make fire, and then find food. With a catch like an elk, the tribe of 10 people could survive for nearly 2 weeks (300 lb elk, 2 pounds of meat per person per day, which is 20 pounds per day, thus 15 days). That means instead of hunting for a week, the tribe could do things like create better weapons, make a better camp, stare at the stars and tell stories, procreate, etc. The catch was everything. And it was also clear that they had to continue moving to find new food sources, new fuel sources, etc.
Thanks for the inside scoop, Robb. I just watched the shows this weekend and I was wondering about those who were burning so much energy with no return on the investment. That was an amazing shot with the atlatl! Now I want one!
Jenni D says
LOVED the I, Caveman episodes of Curiosity…but just watched the “Your Body on Drugs” episode and I’m pretty sure that Robert from the I, Caveman episodes is also the cocaine dude on this episode…am I crazy or is this the same dude?? I find it really weird that Discovery would send a cocaine addict out in the wilderness to survive for 10 days like a caveman…
Same here that Robert the builder is also Rob the coke user.
A vegetarian for ethical reasons, I have a love-hate relationship with the paleo movement. The science behind a paleo diet is elegant; the ethics, barbaric. A basic insight of evolutionary biology is that we are all animals, all descended from a common origin, and thus share certain traits, such as the capacity to suffer, which demand the consideration of humans who are reasoning beings as well as techno-industrial predators. Ignoring the suffering of animals–and the scale and intensity of suffering, especially for farm animals–on whom our lives depend is barbaric. And the greater hypocrisy of the paleo movement is that it denounces agriculture at the same time it uses techno-industrial agriculture to try to reconstruct a hunter-gatherer diet. (Virtually all modern paleo practitioners rely on agriculture for their food.)
So this is the most morally sophisticated sentiment I’ve seen expressed on a paleo blog:
“Killing that beautiful animal was really, really heavy. As I said in the beginning, I’ve hunted in the past, I have experience with this stuff, but it is always hard. I do NOT see humans as having an ordained “dominion” over the other critters on this planet. In my head we operate more as equals and that means I take my actions and how they impact the world around me pretty seriously. I’ll probably regret writing that but it’s how I view the world, so I’ll take my licks as they come.”