Tuesday, 3 February 2015

10,000 BC - an exercise in terror

“Can 21st century humans live successfully in the Stone Age?” the press release asked. I admit that this is not a question that had troubled me much, probably because I knew the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. Having seen the first episode of the new Channel 5 reality TV / archaeo-docudrama / social experiment 10,000 BC, this view remains unchanged.

Let’s not beat around the Mesolithic bush here, 10,000 BC is brilliant TV - in fact I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in years. 10 minutes in and I was convulsing in fits upon the ground, tears streaming down my face, my sides aching. Why had I not seen this in the TV listings? – 10,000 BC is the Big Brother / Flintstones crossover that we never knew we were missing. It is pure comedy gold.

OK so I’m not sure about the audience demographic, being too The Only Way is Essex / Made in Chelsea for an archaeological audience and too archaeological for the TOWIE / MIC brigade. It also doesn’t really tell us much about the hunter gatherer past (other than people probably didn't defecate on their own feet and preferred to keep warm by using a fire), although it may help to explain why our ancestors made the switch to farming in the first place. It is about as much of a 'social experiment' as punching a bear on the nose is an 'exercise in health and safety management' - as entertainment, however, it works on every conceivable level.

From the very start, when the deadpan  narrator justifies the selection of contestants (sorry, participants) as representing ‘a cross section of British society’, before introducing a fire-fighter (who wants to start fires), a survivalist, a self-professed poacher and a man whose job description is ‘Archer’, leaving me wondering what particular period of society they were representative of (early Dark Ages?), it just keeps on getting better. 

When a hairdresser, a betting shop manager and a fencing contractor were also introduced, I couldn't help but think of the finale to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when [SPOILER ALERT] a space ship full of marketing executives and telephone sanitisers, the Golgafrinchan B Ark, crash-lands on prehistoric Earth, displacing the indigenous Neanderthal population in the process. 

Some of the contestants (sorry, participants) further announced, inexplicably, that they wanted "to live like Cavemen" whilst a lorry driver wearing what appeared to be leopard fur remarked that he was taking part because he had been “born in the 1970s, 10,000 years too late”.

Too late for what was never explained.

Selected, apparently with no idea as to what they were letting themselves in for, the 20 contestants (sorry, volunteers), some wearing high-heels, wrap-around shades and designer hoodies, were bundled into the back of a truck and driven into the depths of a Bulgarian forest where they were met by archaeologist and ex-navy Seal ‘Klint Janulis’ (I kid you not). 

After greeting them brusquely, Klint told them all to strip off, put on fur bikinis, leather pants and hiking boots, then follow him to a clearing where he had buried a deer that needed dismembering.

As chat up lines go, that takes some beating.

There then followed an extended scene of shocked disbelief (interspersed with the sound of dry-retching) which ended when a contestant (sorry, social experimentor) shrugged and, looking down at the deer carcass, said calmly “I've got to take the bum out, and tie a knot in it” at which point I suffered some kind of internal rupture.

Scene after scene of pure comic magnificence followed, such as: the one where they couldn't light a fire and, when they did, it immediately went out again; the one where they couldn't  find their clothes (because it got dark); the one where the meat got covered in flies (because it was left on trees); the one where their furs got infested with maggots (and had to be replaced with genuine Mesolithic tartan blankets); the one where they had to dig a poo pit and ended up eating worms instead.

“Left to their own devices,” said Janulis calmly, “people could die.”

I can’t wait to see episode 2

Monday, 2 February 2015


I confess that January is not my favourite month. I have nothing against the first four and a half weeks of the year per se, it's just that, for a variety of reasons, it's not there at the top of my monthly pick of the pops.

January seems extraordinarily (and at times unnecessarily) LONG especially with regard to cash-flow (being paid just before Christmas then nothing for a whole 6 weeks, in between which, of course, lies the most expensive holiday of the year, doesn't help). When it finally arrives, January 31st brings a (very) large overdraft statement outlining what appears to be a big slab of Eurozone-style debt. January also seems extraordinarily (and unnecessarily) grey, a fact increased because, once the excitement of Christmas itself is over, decorations and lights come down on January 6th (to be boxed back into the Russell archive) leaving nothing but harsh desolate winter...and the cold...and the wet....and that feeling that it's 'back to school'.

It's not January's fault of course, and it does try its best to be liked, with a big fanfare, party and firework display at the very start, but Februrary is leaner, shorter and gets (progressively) lighter and though it sometimes brings snow, ice and yet more rain, with February you feel that spring is on it's way and the world is trying its best to wake up.

When February arrives we know it's time to dust off the trowel and wipe clean the mattock for the urge to move soil is nearly upon us.

Februrary is further improved, at least for those of us living in this obscure little island in the nebulous outer seas of planet Earth, by the arrival the spring TV schedule, once the post Xmas listings manage to rise from sluggish stupor. New TV schedules bring new drama, new documentaries and, if all goes to plan, brand new archaeo-historic programming.

This February looks to be no different.

Hot off the TV 'press' this year is the BBC's new series of Digging for Britain, the televisual equivalent of Springwatch / Winterwatch / Autumnwatch, the magazine programme for wildlife enthusiasts (who clamour to see animal and plant life thriving and struggling in equal measure). Digging for Britain is the chance to see what is going on in British archaeological world - the opportunity to see people moving spoil and making discoveries back when the sun was out and the weather was altogether better.

It is the closest we will ever get to a fully fledged Digwatch (and why not Digwatch? Come to think of it, that's an excellent idea - one I happily surrender all copyright claim to in the hope it one day gets made).

I love Digging for Britain (and not just because series 3 will feature more of the Durotriges Project - episode 2 if you really want to know), but because it makes me feel that the excavation season is truly on it's way. Scheduling the programme in February will, I hope, help to put winter on hold, if only for just a few brief moments. It brings light. It brings finds. It brings hope.


OK so maybe I'm being somewhat overenthusiastic (it has been known to happen), but it's been a long winter - could we have spring now please?


Oh and confirmation that Digwatch has been commissioned too...?