I really thought I’d done my last post about the National Geographic program The Great Human Race. Their next exisode was entitled “Thirst” and took place in the desert in Oman on the Saudi peninsula. It didn’t seem bare feet would be involved at all.
I was wrong.
I’ve said this before: it looks like this program was just an attempt to put a science-y layer on top of the current popular trend of survival shows. This episode did not disabuse me of that notion.
As I showed last time, they start with a world map showing a route that leads to North America. They use this to supposedly show the progression of the human race. For “Thirst” they’ve made it to Oman.
One thing I immediately found amusing about this is their promo for their next episode, “Adrift”.
“Adrift” obviously uses another of the popular memes of survival shows: building a boat. But look at that map again. Don’t you think a boat might have been useful a lot earlier to get across the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden at the Bab el Mandeb strait? Somehow they seem to forgotten that.
Of course, when a lot of humans left Africa, they probably headed up the Nile and passed into the Middle East that way.
Another thing that bothered me about this particular show was how they kept emphasizing that the tools the humans had, geared for taking down larger game, had to be adapted for small prey, like the lizards and scorpions in the Omani desert. (Do you detect another excuse for a survival show meme? Like maybe eating lizards and scorpions?) But it was put that humans had to do this; that is, it was portrayed that all humans had to do this.
Except, of course, there were plenty of humans still left in Africa, and they kept hunting larger prey like they always had. Yet, the show made it sound as if the whole human race suddenly had to change.
It’s another false portrayal just like that one showing human evolution in a single line. It’s also used in the line on the map, and in the line drawing they use of human ancestors.
Human evolution is not a line, it’s a bush. An extremely hairy (mixing metaphors), intertwined bush.
Ok, so now we’re up to Homo sapiens of about 75,000 years ago.
And look at the footwear. In real life, most humans went barefoot most of the time, only using footwear when they really needed it. But our resident archaeologist and survival teacher, Bill and Cat, walked around with those silly monstrosities on their feet.
Those had to be hot and sweaty. They are also inaccurate. When people did wear footwear in desert climates, they almost always wore sandals, not dead rabbits.
The show kind of inadvertently showed that those things were inaccurate. As Bill and Cat were traversing the Omani desert, they came across an ancient flintknapping site. (Side note: after visiting and examining the artifacts, Bill did what any good visitor to such a site does: he put the artifact back.) During their visit there, the program re-used their technique of converting the scene to a drawing. Here it is (with Bill and Cat portrayed in the upper right).
That large floating object to the left is a flint blade the had floating through the picture. But notice what all the ancient humans have on their feet.
Is that even possible in the desert?
Yes, it is, and we know that from what is called The Seri Boot, named after the Seri Indians of the Gulf of California. In hot desert environments the foot (actually, any part of the body) develops a thick insulating callus that can withstand temperatures of up to 180°F. Here’s one of the Seri men I showed in that blog post.
And it’s not just historical. One of my friends is a Marine who, a few years back, was one of the embassy guards at the U. S. embassy in Morocco. When his sister visited him, they did a tour out to the Sahara, where they were guided by a Moroccan, Mohammad Ali (“Mohammad Ali” is almost the “John Smith” of Muslim countries). Their guide hadn’t even worn shoes until the age of 14. And he also didn’t seem to need them leading a camel-riding tour in the Sahara.
It’s possible, people.
The rest of the episode dealt with Bill and Cat trying to head for the coast, looking for the “monsoon” so they could get water. They finally get there, but there’s an escarpment they have to climb down.
And what would a science survival show be without the trope of having to use tree roots to climb down a steep area?
And for this we get another of those unmentioned transitions: Bill and Cat suddenly go barefoot.
And what drive me nuts in these situations is that there is absolutely no discussion of that sudden transition.
Oh, it makes sense. Who’d want to climb down like that with a dead rabbit on their foot. You want to be able to feel with your toes.
You want to be able to know exactly what sort of grip you have on the tree root, and be able to use your toes to grasp a bit of wall.
But they said nothing about that. They just did it.
(By the way, the human foot is uniquely shaped for our upright walking, while still retaining the sense of touch that allows us to feel and judge what we are walking on. A science show really could, and ought to, address something like that.)
Anyways, they get to the bottom of the cliff and access the stream they saw from the top. And of course, to go see a stream what’s the first thing any intelligent person would do.
Why, you’d put your footwear back on, right?
Right before the end of the show, Cat does remove her footwear again when she is trying to catch some fish, but again it is without comment. It’s just one of those things that happens without explanation. Along those lines, when she’s trying to spear a fish in somewhat deep water, she’s barefoot, which makes sense, because it would just soak up the water and cause problems. Yet, she still keeps on her leather, um, outfit, which had to be just as uncomfortable. No comment about that, either.
As I mentioned, the next episode, “Adrift”, has them building a reed boat (supposedly in eastern Turkey). I guess they’ll be barefoot a lot for that.
But from what I’ve seen already regarding footwear inaccuracies, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Maybe I should do a drinking game on how many inappropriate footwear sightings there are on an episode based on making and using a boat.
Ill thee u nexxxxxxt weeeeekkk.