After watching episode 5 of 10,000BC on channel 5, the extinction of the tribe is now an inevitability given their lack of condition and the type of "work ethic" of those remaining (which I add might be how they personally respond to a situation of starvation and entirely different in normal life). So, I've decided to write my "lessons learnt" up. This was originally posted on Britarch. I hoping to generate some informed discussion. However the largely academic archaeologists on Britarch have been dismissive of the "low-brow" program from the start. So rather than flogging that dead horse I am posting this here.

The series was filmed in late 2013 in a Bulgarian Game reserve. The group were adults from a mixture of backgrounds up to the age of 65. They were initially given some food, shelter, flint and various animal skins. They were however 21st century people without the knowledge or experience of our ancestors in Mesolithic clothing. And unlike Mesolithic people, the Mesolithic, the camera crew would have been a constant reminder that their way out of their situation was just to give up whereas the only way out for Mesolithic people would have been to move to a better area or die.

 

Of the initial 20, 15 have left. 14 before episode 5 either by choice or for medical reasons. That left a "tribe" with only six members at the start of the last episode. This group consisted of 3 men and 3 women. Of the men, they could be divided into two "hunters" and one "Lazy". Of the women one is a "organiser" and two are "lazy".

Both hunter males had clearly exhausted themselves hunting with apparently little or no help or support from the rest. In episode 5 the most enthusiastic hunter was forced out for 21st century social reasons, the other is now ill. This is likely to leave three women and one men left, of whom 75% are noticeably not "doers" and e.g. are very prone to sleep in till 1pm whilst the other works.

However, whilst there are clearly problems with lack of knowledge, it appears to be the fundamental problem faced by the group is that they were taken to a bit of waste land that was so unproductive that no one could farm it, so it was allowed to turn wild and was then used a game reserve. For example, last night after digging up one of the burdock roots, Mike commented how small it was. JP, likewise commented how hard the ground was. The lake itself appears to be a reservoir - which tend to be placed in deep valleys. Productive lakes tend to be wide, shallow & relatively constantly level, not narrow, deep & huge fluctuations in height. (So, the lake edge was almost sterile mud with no plants!)

Lessons learnt.

1. Having spoken to several members of the cast, it seems clear to me, that even if they repeated the experiment with the best ADULT members of the group, they would still struggle to survive the Autumn and would have no chance making it through the winter. Therefore, I think that a mesolithic tribe with children also would have struggled to survive throughout the year in that area. So, I strongly doubt whether Mesolithic people lived in areas like this Bulgarian game reserve. Instead they must have lived in areas which are far more productive and therefore would probably now be prime farmland.

2. Biggest problem faced by the group was "social". For the first week or two they were largely ineffective regularly walking past obvious food and treating it like a holiday camp and not a farm job. The group lacked cohesion and so failed to work effectively as a group.

3. The group lacked the social means to oust "Lazy" members or to distribute rations according to the member's actual benefit to the tribe. Everyone supposedly got the same rations - although those who sat around the camp where the food was stored appeared to have opportunities to get more than others. The result was that those who did the most work lost condition quickest and had to leave which unfortunately left a core group of those who liked to conserve their calories by staying in bed.

However - from an evolutionary point of view - such people may be important. Because if everyone works themselves to death in a period of famine, then the whole tribe have lost condition and none of them are fit enough to hunt or gather if the opportunity arises. So, a tribe with a subset of lazy people may well survive a famine better.

4. Both hunting and gathering require experience to be successful and bring in sufficient food.

5. HUNTING. There was no successful attack let alone kill of any large animal. In contrast there were quite a few small kills mainly crayfish caught in basket fish trap. It is therefore far easier to catch small animals & other things like crayfish than large game like deer and boar. Except for the fish traps, the only actual "kills" were entirely opportunistic.

6. The tribe only really started to bring in fruit & nuts when they all focussed on one type of gathering as a group. Even then, the calories from the food being harvested did not appear to offset the calories expected getting the food. But the biggest problem was that some members didn't actually spend much time working. This is partly explained by the lack of food so they did not have energy to get more food. But some were still working to the bitter end.

7. The big difference between Mesolithic people and modern ones, is that Mesolithic people would know what a good area for harvesting looks like and would have walked past this game reserve to find something much better.

8. Speaking to some members of the group, there was food when they started but this quickly disappeared. So, it is clear that the group were in competition with wild animals for the best fruits & nuts (acorns) and so it appears what they eventually ended up eating was the stuff birds and animals rejected.

9. It appears the food they had to utilise was only available for short periods. So, they must also have tools techniques and experience and know suitable areas where they could gather and store vast quantities of seasonal nuts, fruits and berries. I also think that because the fruiting periods are sometimes very short, they must have either had ways to gather and store vast amounts or they must have found ways to extend the season, perhaps finding two good areas where a higher one fruits perhaps 2 weeks later.

Another way would be to gather hazelnuts or similar buts/fruits before they are ripe and being gathered by animals/bird and find a way to ripen them where they can be protected.

7. Two of the men ended up suffering with lung infections. I suspect this was either the smoke or more likely something to do with the thatching being used. This appears to be something worth researching.

8. Cordage is probably the most important material in the Mesolithic. It was used to make clothes, baskets, structures, traps.

9. I only saw flint being used to cut up animals and to make "spoons". It was far less important than I had imagined. However it must also have been used to cut leather into strips and cut cordage.

10. Clothing was clearly very important. Somehow none of them "looked right" when they first put them on, but soon "grew into them". I understand at least one person altered their clothing to make it bigger. It also became very important as it got colder.

11. Hairstyles. I still don't understand why humans grow long hair - perhaps it makes ideal fishing line? Whatever the reason, hair was either left to grow into a matted frizz or pleats. (Apparently both french and normal). The mother and daughter pair seem to have "groomed" each other this way.

Mike