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


  1. Finally an archaeologist who's watched the program before they say they don't like

    I think archaeologically the program has been great. Because the format means it focusses on the issues that face the people there. And it had never occurred to me how important the shit would be.

    The other big learning point is that the kinds of woodland where I usually end up looking for food - and not finding it - don;t have food. I now see that the best food grows in the best soil, and in the UK our woodland is on the poor soils that aren't fit for growing crops.

    Also, so far the only person whose caught anything they could eat was the lady with the worm. Which ought to tell us that worms probably played a big part in their diet?

    1. All true.

      Yes, the archaeological 'community' have been a bit down on the programme (to say the least) but then I guess that's because of the way it was marketed (as a recreation / experiment on Mesolithic life) rather than the 'social experiment' / survivalist gameshow with archaeological undertones that it clearly is.


      I'm fond of any and every archaeological programme on TV as it all helps spread the message that the subject is important and, I guess, 10,000 BC is hitting an audience that wouldn't normally sit down to watch a Timewatch Special or Digging for Britain, so that's something. It is also rare, in my opinion, to have the issues surrounding hunter gatherer life presented in such an entertaining way. OK so the facts may not always be right (and, let's face it, as a recreation of Middle Stone Age life it's not hugely accurate - our ancestors surviving, adapting and developing successfully - unlike the current crop of 20) but it's another media 'hit' and comes at a time when the UK is scrapping A Level anthropology and cutting back on spending in the arts....I just wish social commentators would stop calling it 'Living with Cavemen', there being a marked absence of caves (and given cave-use is generally, although not exclusively, associated with the Palaeolithic).

      Ah's to episode 3

    2. And here's to series 2. Living with cavemen sounds brilliant especially if there's dinosaurs!!!

    3. Yes (thank you) - however. If there's 'cave men' and dinosaurs appearing in a single TV programme, isn't that simply an episode of the Flintstones ?

    4. But Flintstones with real blood and gore ��