10,000 BC (Week One)

The premise seemed pretty interesting. Put 20 people in a stone age setting and see how well they cope with life. Remember The 1900 House? Well, this is that concept taken to extremes and, let’s face it, we may know bugger all about the structure of society back then, but we can safely assume that the modern “nuclear family” didn’t exist. So a “tribe” of 20 volunteers makes sense.

I must admit, the concept of 10,000 BC has made me a little nostalgic. Not that I’m twelve thousand years old – my nostalgia is for the early days of social experiments like Castaway (where a bunch of people were dropped on Taransay for a few months) and the first Big Brother (when the house was populated by people with a sociological interest and not just the biggest loonies the producers could find). I was interested to see how these modern people react to living like, say, Magdalenian people and what they might take away from such an experience. Unfortunately, in some respects the set-up the show actually uses is flawed. What I expected was a situation where the volunteers are given constant, if retreating, guidance and some of what we know from archaeology is explained to them. As such, the volunteers would actually live like Mesolithic man.

Here’s what happens instead. The volunteers are given a bundle of stone age clothes (plus modern boots, because there’s no getting around untempered feet) and ceremonially turn in their modern gear. They are shown to a camp with ready-made huts in the middle of a hunting reserve in Bulgaria, and an archaeologist/survival expert shows them some early ropes. What the volunteers have is some tools, their shelters, some furs, some food, and a pre-slaughtered (but not butchered) deer carcass. Then, after being chivvied a little (but not really shown a lot) by the archaeologist for two days, they’re on their own with the camera crew and two survival advisers (whose main job is to stop them poisoning themselves). So, yeah. A bunch of modern Brits who’ve never done this before are basically dropped right in it.

Why is this bad? Well, where do I begin? Obviously, any culture living in Europe in an era before animal domestication had really taken hold beyond the Middle East would have got to where they live slowly, learning as they went and building on techniques that they already knew worked. Their society would have structured around that life, with an accepted means of conferring leadership, knowledge of what needed doing day-to-day to survive, and whatever systems of society were needed for people to perform their roles in the structure of the tribe. Furthermore, twenty strangers (the volunteers are pulled from a cross-section of British society, and therefore from a wide variety of backgrounds) would not find themselves suddenly together in unexplored territory (the reserve is twenty-eight square miles and nobody’s seen a map) in October with only four days worth of food. As an intelligent viewer with an interest in archaeology and anthropology, I could see disaster looming from the get-go.

In these first two episodes, the limitations of the format mean that there are some gaps in what we know about the tribe as viewers. Frankly, the format of the show is very badly put together. Besides the fact that the concept is clearly doomed to failure for the reasons I’ve described, little attention is paid to some members of the tribe early on, meaning that we sometimes don’t see how they fit into some of the situations that arise. Kam (a housewife and shopkeeper according to the website), for one, is a face that just kind of appears in the background. And Mel, although she gets stuck in early on, wanting to learn by helping butcher the deer, doesn’t really figure in the narrative but gets featured in a lot of diary segments in episode two.

Despite the limitations, however, I have been drawn in a little bit. While characters like Aamer and JP have clearly been picked because of the tensions they are likely to cause, the tribe are mostly made up of reasonable and interested people, clearly invested in surviving the eight weeks in prehistory successfully. They quickly vote archery teacher Steve as leader and the other “alpha male” types work with him and defer to him (so far, at least). There’s a family involved, and a couple, so the dynamics are interesting to watch. Maybe my patience will be tried next week.

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~ by Scary Rob on 15 February, 2015.

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