Did Cavemen Get Athlete’s Foot?

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That’s the title of one of the sections of the FYI feature in the December 2010 issue of Popular Science (p. 102).

Yours truly is quoted in it:

But just walking around in fungus doesn’t cause athlete’s foot. Cavemen would have had to have worn shoes. “It turns out that athlete’s foot is a disease of shod populations,” says Bob Neinast, the lead blogger for the Society for Barefoot Living. “Anyone can pick up the fungus, but the thing to keep in mind is that it grows really well in a warm, dark, moist environment. That’s the inside of a shoe.” People who go barefoot, Neinast says, rarely get athlete’s foot, most likely because exposure to fresh air keeps their feet too dry for the fungus to take hold and multiply.

The article then goes on to ask if cavemen actually went barefoot. People (or at least some people) have probably been wearing footwear for at least 40,000 years. According to scientific papers by Erik Trinkhaus, you can tell if people are wearing shoes because the toes, which are used quite a bit by barefoot people, have smaller bones in the shod. Those papers are Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear use and Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear: Tianyuan and Sunghir. But also don’t forget that, for most people back then and for a long time, shoes were expensive. They would probably only be worn when really needed.

Anyways, the Popular Science article then goes on to talk to Cody Lundin, of Dual Survivor fame. He suggests that, if they did get athlete’s foot, they might have had a remedy:

If you take the green parts of a juniper plant and boil them, the mix makes a wonderful fungicide that will work on athlete’s foot. Indigenous people might have used it. Works great on jock itch, too.

Of course, being a barefooter, I have no need of it.

You can read the full article in Popular Science.

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