Hard to know, says Will Harcourt- Smith, an expert on early-human fossils at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "Some infections leave their mark on bones. Athlete's foot is not one of those infections. But if we make some logical assumptions, we might be able to make a good guess."
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the skin—typically by fungi of the Trichophyton genus—that causes skin to scale, flake, and itch. Which makes us ask: Did cavemen even encounter this fungus? "The fungus that causes athlete's foot was definitely around back then, and probably much earlier," says Tim James, who specializes in fungi evolution at the University of Michigan. "Like all fungi, it thrives in moist, unhygienic environments, which is why most people pick it up in locker rooms. I don't imagine that a caveman's dwelling, with a dirt floor covered in animal remains, was a very sterile place."
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 of 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.
Which leads us to ask: Did cavemen go barefoot? "Within around 10,000 years ago, people had lovely shoes," Harcourt-Smith says. Our ancestors might have moved out of caves and into small villages by that time, he notes, but their footwear was still quite primitive, consisting of leather wrappings sometimes stuffed with grass for insulation (at least during cold weather). "If the shoes got damp and the person wore them often enough, that could have encouraged athlete's foot," he says.
Even the worst case of athlete's foot wouldn't have killed a caveman, but it could have impaired his quality of life. "If the irritation gets bad enough, it will stop you in your tracks," says Cody Lundin, an outdoor survival- skills instructor who has gone barefoot for 20 years. "That would be unacceptable for a hunter population." Without antifungal sprays or creams, how would they have fought the burn? They might have been able to cook up 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," Lundin says. "Works great on jock itch, too."
This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Popular Science magazine.
Juniper plant baths work AMAZING for poision ivy as well. I am quite alergic to poision ivy and it spreads very quickly over my entire body and into my mouth (not fun, nor pretty) I came across an article on Juniper buds having "healing/cleansing" properties if boiled and bathed in. I didn't have much to lose so I tried it out, I picked a pound of Juniper buds and boiled the lot of them and added to a bath, soaked until the water went cold. Did this once a day until the outbreak was gone, which was only just over 2 days! I usually would go 2 weeks unable to do much of anything. Really is amazing stuff. But you smell like a christmas tree for a while.
There is a cave wall painting of the hunter with fire toes, but they later proved it was painted by Dr. Livingston who was being forced at gun point by Jimmy Houston to paint a messianic-likeness...Jimmy failed to notice the fire toes however which was obviously a wish of the late Dr.'s to get back at his being so ruough. The story goes on but its more than we want to know.
I imagine from animal to plant oil could have been spread on the foot to keep athletic fungi away. Besides the foot fungi, I imagine the privates of primates would be subject to fungi as well. Also spreading oil all over your body would also deter bugs in the environment from biting as well.
Why is this article a reposting with 2 old previous comments from 2010?.
PopSci may be re-posting stuff. That white dwarf eating article seemed awfully familiar.
With all the politically motivated articles on here....maybe science has just ground to a halt so PopSci has been forced to re-post old articles and post pseudo-science about man-made global warming?
chuck is that you best answer?