We need gardens to help us 'live more like cavemen' suggests top archaeologist
Provision of more gardens, growing spaces and allotments and a return to a way of life more attuned to our hunter-gather origins are among the solutions to modern urban challenges advocated by leading archaeologist Gustav Milne.
In a new book titled ‘Uncivilised Genes: Human Evolution and the Urban Paradox’, he examines the mismatch between our increasingly urbanized world and our biology. The problem, he says, is that society continues to change with remarkable speed, yet anatomically and genetically we remain much as were thousands of years ago. Understanding the requirements of our prehistoric past may hold the answer to tackling the epidemic of western lifestyle diseases currently confronting us.
We cannot change our genes, so the solution, according Milne, is to change our modern urban lifestyles, our buildings and even our town plans to better fit our biology. We need to eat and live more like our cavemen ancestors.
Eat like a hunter-gatherer. Our evolving digestive system is designed for fresh foods, not industrially-processed products with additional sugars. Indeed, evidence suggests that the more your diet diverges from a Palaeolithic norm, the shorter your life is likely to be. The ideal diet is rich in vegetables and proteins, and is shaped by the seasons in the same way our hunter-gatherer ancestors' diets were. That’s good news for the grow-your-own market.
Live like a hunter-gatherer. Modern urban homes should be no more than six storeys high, have good natural light, and open out to outdoor spaces such as gardens, balconies or roof terraces. Having access to nature - be it through houseplants, pets or being outdoors in gardens and parks - is essential not just for the psychological uplift, but also for the effective working of our ancient immune system. More good news for the garden industry.
Gustav Milne specialises in urban archaeology. His national community-based coastal archaeology project is featured in the Channel 4 series Britain at Low Tide.
‘Uncivilised Genes: Human Evolution and the Urban Paradox’ is published by Independent Thinking Press (Crown House Publishing).