February 4, 2011 4:39 PM Subscribe
Do human beings as a species, homo sapiens sapiens, have a strong body odor in their natural state? Anthropologists, biologists, informed laypeople, any way to get at the truth?
posted by VikingSword to science & nature (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There are many body odor threads on the green. Rampant speculation as to why somebody stinks. Bad hygiene, medical conditions, laundry.
My question is different. At the zoo, when you pass cages full of animals, some species have no odor at all (that's detectable to humans from a distance of a few feet), but other cages stink to high heaven. Now I realize that all animals have some body odor, but I'm talking about the "high performers".
How about humans, in an uncivilized state, as we might have been 50,000 years ago?
We cannot take a modern street person, for example, because they frequently wear clothes soaked in urine, and that obviously is not exactly "in their natural state".
Anecdotally, we know that various individuals may have stronger/weaker body odor - a bit odd, seems to me, as I can't imagine such wide variability, among, for example, individual hyenas. We also hear, anecdotally claims that f.ex. people of different ethnic backgrounds have different levels of body odor (I have no idea how valid that is).
I'd imagine that to some degree it would be a function of diet. But what about the concept of hygiene? We don't talk about hyena hygiene, except for grooming behaviors which may impact odor. What about humans back in pre-historic times - running, active, sweating, but without recourse to soap. Historically, we know that in various societies in various time periods, people might rarely to never bathe (and there were even myths associated with it, like "bathing is unhealthy"), but again, things have been complicated by clothing which can absorb and amplify smells.
So, let us say we are strolling through a primeval forest:
a)suddenly we come across a terrific stench - our guide says "oh-oh, humans ahead!" "How far?" "Mere feet!" "A mile!" "Six miles!"
b)we stumble across a group of humans hiding in the bush, and we never smelled them!
I suppose it's also possible that to humans other humans will smell, but a cat might not, simply because we are sensitized to that smell evolutionarily.
In any case - is humanity closer to the hyenas in cages, or cats in cages?