Survival of the Richest (AHS14 Supplemental)

Later, I hope to blog about the “missing links” at what is supposed to be a symposium of ancestral health, which implies what did we eat to be healthy? Which further implies: who ate it and who were their offspring?

I don’t attend AHS anymore. I was privileged to promote it highly in advance of its inaugural event at UCLA in 2011, be a speaker there, and then spoke again in round 2 at Harvard in 2012. Here’s one reason why. It’s rather like stepping back in time to the 2009-2011 timeframe with lots of pretty much the same thing, only more presentations with lots of letters after names.

This is the level of commentary I get at Free the Animal almost every day.


@christopher – “You either had meat or you subsisted on roots veg and fruit but not both. Except if you were an upper class individual or a pharaoh and didn’t have to gather your food yourself”

The problem in this type of thinking is that modern people are descendants of the rich, rather than of the poor or even average. According to the work of Gregory Clark 90% of English at the eve of the industrial revolution are descendants of 10% of the rich at the early Middle Ages.

There’s a recurring error in the discussion about the diet of OUR ancestors: people acquire information about the typical diets of average people in the past and conclude that this is what the ancestors of contemporary people ate. Such conclusion is based on assumption that there’s some demographic link between typical people of the past and typical people of today.

This assumption is broken, as we are not descendants of averages, but we are disproportionally descendant from the rich people of the past. This has been confirment by many pieces of evidence, sometimes fragmentary: like informations about hundreds or even thousands of sons of ancient rulers versus slaves that had below replacement fertility etc. The best (most precise and based on the best evidence) available work concerns middle ages in the UK, and was done by Gregory Clark, the book is named “Farewell to alms”. It shows that 90% of English in the 18th centaury come from just 10% of the richest people at the beginning of the middle ages. He calls it “Survival of the richest” Here’s a short version of this:

“Survival of the richest” is very meaningful in the context of the ancestral diets, as what we really want is to find out diets of OUR ancestors, not just the diets of the majority of population, that left no descendants living today. It means that when studying the past ways of eating with the goal to find our ancestral diet we have to discard the poorest, and concentrate on upper social classes – as much more likely to be either our ancestors, or behaving as our ancestors (same social class) if not directly related.

How about Eastern Civilizations – a quote from Matt Ridley – the Red Queen:

“Without exception, that vast accumulation of power was always translated into prodigious sexual productivity. The Babylonian king Hammurabi had thousands of slave “wives” at his command. The Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten procured 317 concubines and “droves” of consorts. The Aztec ruler Montezuma enjoyed 4,000 concubines. The Indian emperor Udayama preserved sixteen thousand consorts […]

Measures to enhance the fertility of the harem were common. Wet nurses, who allow women to resume ovulation by cutting short their breast-feeding periods, date from at least the code of Hammurabi in the eighteenth century B.C.; they were sung about in Sumerian lullabies. The Tang Dynasty emperors of China kept careful records of dates of menstruation and conception in the harem so as to be sure to copulate only with the most fertile concubines. Chinese emperors were also taught to conserve their semen so as to keep up their quota of two women a day, and some even complained of their onerous sexual duties. These harems could hardly have been more carefully designed as breeding machines, dedicated to the spread of emperors’ genes.”

There are some interesting followups from others; eg. about the sorry state of the groups that didn’t participate in the Clark model, but didn’t go extinct, just become a minority, but still kept their high-violence, high-time-preference, inability to do monotonous jobs behavior from hunter-gatherers time.

“In pre-modern Japanese society, the Burakumin specialized in jobs that required contact with dead flesh, e.g., butchery, leather making, and preparation of corpses for burial. They were and still are socially stigmatized, and marriage with them was forbidden. Because of their endogamy and their reserved occupations, they may have thus escaped the process of demographic replacement that Gregory Clark (2007) described for English society, i.e., they were not gradually replaced by downwardly moving members of the middle class. As such, they might provide a glimpse into the genetic predispositions that characterized the Japanese several centuries ago”

So basically when we look at oru ancestry backwards in time, from us today, to some hominids in the past, what we see is a chain of individuals who are mostly rich – with some perhaps temporary downward moments, followed by upwards one, who thus didn’t suffer from the starvation, but ate a reasonable diet, with enough calories (although in medieval times rich ate less protein than hunter gatherers, same calories according to G. Clark work) even when the average in the population were starving at the Malthusian limits.


So, I don’t attend AHS anymore because there’s very little to see there, anymore. In my view.

I’m about new insight, new understanding, new integration. I’m as far from entrenched academic confirmation bias with a view to enhanced capitalization as you can get. Nothing against capitalization, it’s just that I prefer to make my money by roughing up minds.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Heidi on August 8, 2014 at 08:51

    “onerous sexual duties”

    fascinating subject. the gregory clark videos look great, will have a proper look later. really liked the bit where he says that living standards didnt improve at all from 0AD to about 1750. thats just mind boggling.

  2. Viktor on August 8, 2014 at 09:36

    Does this also explain the level of “mental illness” today? If you look at the sorry state of the British aristocracy (despite the royals beings German rather than English stock), I always explained their low level of mental output as a result of inbreeding, If the inbreeders are the survivors, that explains a lot about the world today. The hope is that one’s ancestral line somehow escaped from this track.

    • John on August 8, 2014 at 11:46

      Are you suggesting that Akhenaten, for example, had a harem that consisted of 317 of his sisters?

    • Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 12:01


      You’re conflating.

      While Royals (a minuscule population) are known to inbreed quite a lot to keep lineages in control, that’s not so for the progeny from the Harem. This is the POINT!

      Seriously. Did you not at LEAST have the presence of mind to, minimally, relate this as an alternative? Or, did you simply want to offer an off-cuff, mal-considered opposition that reeks on the slightest of examination?

    • LeonRover on August 9, 2014 at 02:14

      “conflagrating”, mmmm, yes.

      I guess “flag” is the iskra for Victor’ s Royals riding in the tumbrils, ‘cos they would not join the revolution 🙂 🙂


    • Richard Nikoley on August 9, 2014 at 08:10

      My favorite pastime now is to do a typo on purpose, wait for Leon to pick up on it, then I go back and change it so that nobody has any idea what he’s talking about (as if they would, anyway). 🙂

  3. Heidi on August 8, 2014 at 10:05

    i left a comment on dr neal barnard’s blog today. i was sad to see that he is still pushing the low fat vegan thing. im a big fan of his and i wish one of these vegan doctors would address the health problems of vegan diets that seem to be appearing often now.

    of course there’s always denise mingers excellent blog, where she recommends adding in some seafood. then here on free the animal theres the advice about eating beans and potatoes. i think completely carb free and completely meat free are both causing some problems for people. better to have some sort of balance maybe.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 11:19


      Just a little red pill history for you. Can you guess where you have ended up, and how, originally, Denise Minger got a word out?

      Yep, that’s right. Everyone LITERALLY heard it here first.

    • Heidi on August 8, 2014 at 13:10

      ah, great 😀 its all coming together.

      im still holding out for my old favorite neal barnard. surely the vegan doctors cant be actively ignoring all this stuff ?

      was looking today at colin campbell’s response to the china study debunking.

      he says some sciencey type stuff i dont understand, and then that he just wanted people to “try” the vegan diet and see what happens. well i tried it. good health benefits in some areas and then my teeth broke 5 years later.

      its this teeth-breaking thing that i want dr barnard to have a look at. he says in his books that “essential fatty acids” arent really so essential. i would have thought the clue was in the name.

    • Gina on August 8, 2014 at 17:21


      Hello, fellow herbivore! I like Dr. Barnard as well, and I think he has done some good work, but if you’re looking for plant-based people who don’t ignore things like the importance of B-12 and omega-3 fats, try Dr. Greger at (his year-end talks are amazing) or Jack Norris at or Ginny Messina at

      I have thrived on a vegan diet, but I try to be sensible about it. I take a B-12 supplement, eat 2 tbsp of ground flax a day + a vegan DHA, avoid seed oils, get plenty of sunshine and take a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement at bedtime. I see no need to eat shellfish with these precautions.

      I think the main problems for vegans are B-12 and omega-3/omega-6 ratio. It’s sad, because both are so easy to remedy. I blame prominent vegans for not emphasizing it more.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 18:57


      How about garlic, silver, and wood?

    • Heidi on August 9, 2014 at 02:37

      thanks for the reply 🙂

      im actually not vegan any more. i feel bad about it, but im eating some good quality meat and more fat. i cant do these high fat diets or even high protein, so i guess im somewhere in the middle.

    • Gina on August 9, 2014 at 14:47

      Ha ha, Richard. 😉

  4. Dr. Curmudgeon Gee on August 8, 2014 at 12:17

    something to tease my brain later


  5. gabkad on August 8, 2014 at 16:28

    I would think it was since the Plague that there is validity about this. The bubonic plague killed people regardless of wealth.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 18:21

      Gabs, I doubt it.

      Again, wealth would have protected one generally from the highest risk factors of infection, just as in the case of cholera, chiefly from infected wells of poor people crowded in close quarters.

    • gabkad on August 9, 2014 at 12:26

      Tell that to my great great great grandfather, a pharmacist, who died of cholera in 1873 (Kosice) and lived in a rather large villa….. They were wealthy and so I buy your 10%. His sons were all over six feet tall and my great grandfather was six foot six…… don’t consistently get there on lack of nutrients that’s for sure.

      Cholera arrived in Europe relatively late with the railroads.

      But I’ve looked at cemetery records for what is today Slovakia, and the number of paupers and beggers who died of starvation was significant especially before 1700.

      As you say, the wealthy survived these situations. And they had an advantage in cognitive functioning, intelligence and whatnot due to better nutrition, and supportive family connections. More robust, longer lived.

      What do you think is going to winnow out the poor in America? So far they seem to be doing rather well with feeding and breeding.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 9, 2014 at 13:28

      “What do you think is going to winnow out the poor in America? So far they seem to be doing rather well with feeding and breeding.”

      This is why socialism/communism/democracy ultimately fails, then resets. Society exceeds its Peter Principle.

    • gabkad on August 9, 2014 at 17:15

      Has so called democracy been around long enough for us to see it fail? We don’t really have democracy. And it wasn’t really communism or socialism either.

    • Bret on August 9, 2014 at 17:47


      Yes, it has been around long enough. We know of its failure from many historical examples. We are watching a current-day worldwide national debt bomb in the making as well, with politicians showing not the slightest spine to the tyranny of the majority. That’s a function of democracy. Democracy endures a natural progression to socialism and even communism. America was never intended by its founders to be a ‘democracy,’ but a republic, not much unlike ancient Rome. And just like ancient Rome, the brilliant system they conceived was evidently not brilliant enough, because it has been corrupted into a contortion not resembling its origin in nearly any way.

      I’ll go beyond democracy, socialism, communism, and any other institutional product of economic ignorance, and say that governed civilization in general is likely to fail. Life does seem to get better the more time goes on, compared to historical example, but it also coincides with less and less government. If civilization as an institution does survive the next few hundred years of human evolution, I suspect it will be with a level of government that most of today’s liberals would consider frightfully miniscule.

  6. Logical on August 8, 2014 at 16:44

    Great post and I loved the irony. Wasn’t it a comment about the privileged status of AHS attendees that started the Paleo War? 🙂

    • Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 18:25

      Logical, you might want to see what I’ve been up to today on my Twitter feed.

  7. Nick Lo on August 8, 2014 at 20:05

    Got to admit I saw the lead up to this and was apprehensive it was going to mark the point where Richard Nikoley just becomes an attention-seeking curmudgeon rather than shaking everyone up to dig deeper. I’m selfishly glad it’s the latter.

    I’ve got “Farewell to Alms” on my reading list but not got to reading it yet so my question: In the book does “90% of English in the 18th centaury come from just 10% of the richest people” also include displaced persons?

    You, being in the US and I, being in Australia both live in lands with those whose descendants were displaced. Here in Australia, that the white population are descended from convicts is a common jibe, even though it’s far more likely they descended from the landowners, etc. Still even the “riches” of those displaced “rich” likely benefitted from the displacement, i.e. would they have flourished as well back in their native lands?

    History has always seen displacement of people through war, famine, etc and many of those will have managed to become “rich” as a result of finding suitably fertile alternatives and ultimately prestige. My point therefore is that tracing back to our “rich” ancestry may be the valid for those whose lineage remains in the same lands as their ancestors, but does it also account for breaks in the timeline by the displaced?

  8. Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 20:13

    “mark the point where Richard Nikoley just becomes an attention-seeking curmudgeon”

    Damn, missed my mark again.

    Ha, I slept long and hard about how I wanted to play this. I did this post, and have been tagging stuff over the last year that, shall we say, is not well represented.

    I’ve been a speaker twice. I love AHS and I care.

  9. Richard Nikoley on August 8, 2014 at 20:28

    “My point therefore is that tracing back to our “rich” ancestry may be the valid for those whose lineage remains in the same lands as their ancestors, but does it also account for breaks in the timeline by the displaced?”

    Well my dad was a German kid growing up in WWII where walking to school and seeing dead people was what life was.

    He ended up in America. Has 4 boys, I’m the first, and mom was born in Oakland, CA. Her lineage is UK, Dutch, Welsh. But way earlier, like a distant relative is the wife of John Adams. But her dad was an Idaho Mormon. But an artist. He came west to do good, ended up financing his 13 siblings to come out too. Man, did I have a cool childhood.

    What does is all mean?

    No idea, but I am convinced that our lifespans are too short to fully grasp evolution.

    • gabkad on August 9, 2014 at 17:29

      Ah, but what did your dad’s dad do?

      See that’s your hypothesis/treatise/Clark’s treatise. They must have been doing something that ensured robustness in children and grandchildren.

  10. GTR on August 9, 2014 at 01:19

    It looks like analogous thing is present in hunter-gatherers too. But much simpler, and smaller one – the equivalent of rich is “a good hunter”; wealth accumulation might not be that important, as you they don’t own fields – but being a good hunter might hava a large genetic component.

    “Anecdotal evidence from many hunter-gatherer societies suggests that successful hunters experience higher prestige and greater reproductive success. Detailed quantitative data on these patterns are now available for five widely dispersed cases (Ache, Hadza, !Kung, Lamalera, and Meriam) and indicate that better hunters exhibit higher age-corrected reproducttive success than other men in their social group.”

    “The intergenerational wealth transmission coefficients estimated here range from values that are very low and statistically indistinguishable from zero to ones near or above 0.4. Let us focus on intermediate values of β≈0.25, close to several measures (Table 5). While far below a perfect transmission rate of 1.0, this measure indicates a fairly high bias in the life chances according to the parent’s wealth. Indeed, as detailed in the introductory paper in this forum by Bowles et al., β=0.25 implies that a child born into the top wealth decile of the population is 5 times more likely to remain in the top wealth decile than a child whose parents were in the bottom decile. Even a β of 0.1 implies that a child born into the top wealth decile is twice as likely to remain there as is one born into the bottom decile. These results suggest that in hunter-gatherer populations, even those with extensive food-sharing and other leveling devices (Cashdan 1982), the offspring of those better off will tend to remain so, and conversely.

    But how much wealth inequality actually exists in these populations? The Gini coefficients listed in Table 5 are low compared to contemporary societies, and even to agricultural and pastoral populations (see other papers in this forum); but they are far from negligible. Excluding the low coefficients for weight, the Ginis range from 0.2 to 0.5, and even including weight the α-weighted average is 0.25 (Table 5). This value is the same as the income inequality in contemporary Denmark (0.25)”

    The selection factors are different too. Late Medieval to pre-industrial Europe selected for non-violence, while hunter-gatherers were selected for violence. It’s was both inside the tribes – with killers having more children than non-killers; but also between the tribes – more peaceful hunter gatherer groups like Pygmy or Bushmen (Khoisan) are loosers to the more violent tribes.

    ” The “out of Africa” hypothesis proposes that a small group of Homo Sapiens left Africa 80 000 years ago, spreading the mitochondrial haplogroup L3 throughout the world. Little effort has been made to reconstruct the society and culture that left Africa to populate the rest of the world. Here, I find that hunter-gatherers that belong tho mitochondrial haplotypes L0, L1 and L2 do not have a culture of ritualized fights such as wrestling, stick fights, or headhinting expeditions. This appears to be independent of their environment because ritualized fights occur in all climates, from the tropic to the arctic. There is also a correlation between mitochondrial halpotypes and warfare propensity or the use of murder and suicide to resolve conflicts. the data implicate that the original human population outside Africa is descentded from only two closely related sub-branches that practiced ritual fighting and had a higher propensity towards warfare and the use of murder for conflict resolution.”

    Peaceful tribes also lost inside the Africa, where they were marginalized during so-called “Bantu Expansion”.
    “The Bantu expansion either pushed out or absorbed the hunter-forager Khoisan, who formerly inhabited the sub-equitorial areas.”

    In Medieval there was a lot of warfare, but within a society there were mechanism for violence elimination – not only economical ones that Gregory Clark described (people with the tendency to solve conflicts via negotiations doing better) but also simple death penalty for murder, that replaced previous private/family vendettas.

    The other important selection factor that Gregory Clark mentions was low time preference – with people having the ability to invest now, and wait for returns in the distant future prospering. In hunter-gatherer societies you basically had to survivie winter in northern groups, have weapon/cloth/tools prepared – so the value of time span that was most selected was lower – definitelty not multi-year. Or the ability to do monotonous jobs for long periods of time (without getting bored, loosing focus) – crucial for neolithic, less necessary for hunter gatherers.

    It looks like the positive selection in hunter gatherers was related to vision, visual processing, visual memory; while those groups that had civlization longest – like Semitic people – ended up with high verbal / visual abilities ratio.

    Going back to the topic – if you look for your ancestors in the direction from now into the past it may be that outside of some temporary downs it may contain mostly reasonably affluent, well fed people – even if the average was low. Meaning relying on averages of the population in the past is not indicative of our descendant, who our ancestors were. Rather than relying on averages of the populations in concluding who our ancestors were we should give more weight to the above average parts of such populations, and less to below-average ones.

  11. Christoph Dollis on August 9, 2014 at 04:49

    Great post. Extremely thought provoking.

    I’m glad you like the Evo and Proud blog. It’s awesome and I don’t read it as often as I ought to.

  12. Bret on August 9, 2014 at 09:20

    I’m as far from entrenched academic confirmation bias with a view to enhanced capitalization as you can get.

    I foresee the following reaction, whether internal or external:

    “Whaaaat? You mean to imply that I, the [insert prominent LC expert name], could ever be subject to confirmation bias based on my financial interests?

    “I wrote the book on Ancel Keys’ confirmation bias! No chance I could be guilty of the same.”

  13. GTR on August 10, 2014 at 13:47

    One of the frequently repeated meme from Paleo Circles is about “robust Paleolithic skeletons” as comparet do weak Nelothic ones. This might be true if speaks about average – that is including also the poorest groups of the Neolithic population. But Neolithic doesn’t mean that everyone determinisically was a weakling – with average strenght of Neolithic. Neolithic means just a huge variation in the population, and a large population allowing for extremes; a major change from Paleolithic where everybody was more or less the same.
    You can easily find multiple robust people in Neolithic – in modern reconstructions or art of the era. Few examples:
    A medieval knight:
    “”He was a very strong and fit nobleman, with the physique of a professional rugby player”

    Vespasian – a roman ceasar; a military leader before that:

    And if you google the pictures for phrase “ancient Greek sculpture” you’d see hordes of statues of athletic, sporty and muscular people.

    So even if the average was low, because of all those underfed slaves, or poorer free people it’s wrong to say that Neolithic led to non-robust skeletons. In fact, because the population exploded there probably were more robust people in Neolithic than in Paleo times.

    • Richard Nikoley on August 10, 2014 at 14:08

      I have a Greek (or Roman) middle toe, just like the statues.

      Does that count (please)? 🙂

    • Dr. Curmudgeon Gee on August 10, 2014 at 16:06


      i have noticed that the jaw of knight, very robust

      there’re death masks of famous people.
      i particularly like Newton’s.


  14. LeonRover on August 10, 2014 at 22:25

    Survival of the Richards ? :)) :))

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