Wednesday, February 18, 2015

10 000 BC - Update 18 Feb

And then it snowed

Predictably things went from bad to worse. With more people giving up, the tribe were down to 13 by the time the next show was screened on Monday.

A sudden snowstorm and freezing temperatures left them cold, wet miserable and more or less trapped in their huts. Disaster.

After consultations with the producers, it was decided to temporarily abandon the project and remove the tribe to a place of safety. With hot showers, hot food and some well-needed rest the remaining members recovered their spirits and the time was not entirely wasted.

The survival experts and the producers finally realised that two days of training to live in the Stone Age was never enough. So, in the time available while the snow poured down they tried to expand the knowledge of the group. Some tribe members used the time well. Some members, having been reminded what life in the 21st century was all about, decided to leave.

The seven remaining tribe members seemingly bonded well and appeared determined to make a success of the experiment.

Lots of positives were expounded, but could these be translated into real progress?

Finally they got back to the camp as the weather moderated. The tribe promptly decided to sack Steve. Steve is the archer and a wise head on old shoulders. How would he react?


Steve decided to leave. And then there were six.

(aside – a recent news report concerned a proposed reality TV show. The purpose of the show would be to “select” members to join a mission to Mars – where they would set up a colony. The producers seem to think they can do this for almost no money (compared to the propose NASA budget for a Mars mission). This would, at least, be more realistic than 10 000 BC. Members of the tribe just quit; they leave the camp via a four-wheel drive vehicle, and they resume a normal everyday life. Put 20 people on Mars and then we'll see who can survive! Craziest idea I've heard in some long time!)

Left with six, three men and three girls, the tribe began to struggle, despite having their food stores replenished with 10 days supply of nuts and berries and yet another deer.

They managed to skin the deer and prepare it for making deer jerky. This is a good plan for the first deer was wasted because it was soon infested with fly maggots. They even managed to wedge it up a tree overnight to prevent animals feeding on the tempting carcass.

Paul Barnes (the leader voted in after the coup to get rid of Steve Nicholson got sick. Really sick. Constant coughing and short of breath. He was removed to the medical tent for assessment. Down to five.

Of the five, one of the ladies is a vegetarian. Great call producers! She is running out of food. (I didn't spend 10 000 years clawing my way to the top of the food chain to become a vegetarian!) Digging up the required roots for carbohydrates is back-braking work with no modern tools. She is going to starve!

John Paul was helping her to dig. He announced last night that he was leaving but the whole group begged him to stay, so he remains for the time being.

Melissa more or less takes over leadership as Paul's illness prevents him from playing an active part.

This looks like it could be a blessing in disguise. It is very possible that our ancestors lived in a matriarchal society. Men are hunting all day and women are raising children. Nagging has a long and illustrious history!!

Paul eventually arrives back at the camp but he is weak.

Last word to the Mirror:

“In just eight days they caught 10 tiny crayfish and – drum roll – a mouse. Enough to reduce everyone to severe malnutrition. Yay.

As more and more of them collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital, the on-site doctor declared a thoroughly modern medical emergency. Unless these ailing losers were fed fast the show was over.

Enter the programme’s hapless staff with a mammoth meal of jerky, honey, isotonic drinks and “for the first time in days”... fresh meat. A dinosaur-size slab of venison. What, no wine? A nice Bulgarian red to wash it down?

Wearing the panicked ­expression of a man whose mission was falling apart at the seams, producer Rob Rawlings lied: “The aim of this experiment isn’t to watch 20 people starve. It’s to see if 20 people can survive like a Stone Age tribe.”

Now I’m no expert, but I’d hazard a guess that when the going got tough for those real-life Fred ­Flintstones, there was no caring camera crew ready to provide them with tasty takeaways.

In other words Rob, the answer’s no. You have emphatically established that 20 people CAN’T survive like a Stone Age tribe. Your experiment has failed. On an epic scale. Get used to it.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

10 00 BC Update

And disaster was not long in coming to call

Why do people say, “I hate to be an I told you so.” It's such a cop-out. Actually, everyone loves to be the one who is proved correct whilst their buddies are all proved wrong. It's human nature – get over it!

This is exactly what has happened to the producers of the programme 10 000 BC. I told them it was not going to work and I was right.

After seven weeks in a programme which should have lasted for four months, it's just about over. The “tribe” has lost more members and those who are left are struggling to make any impression on the environment.

What's gone wrong?

In the first instance, the programme designers set up an entirely false premise. To recap – they had 20 people put into a stone age environment and (supposedly) left them to sort out how to survive.

First point: the tribe had two days of instruction from a “Stone Age survival expert”. So, what it took our ancestors 20 000 years to learn the hard way the tribe was supposed to learn in two days? This was never either going to work or be a fair test.

Secondly, the tools provided to the tribe were inadequate to make for an interesting test. Example: much play was made in the first programme as the tribe struggled for a whole day to get a fire going without matches or a cigarette lighter. This was completely unrealistic. Our ancestors had fire. No doubt they had methods of making fire if they had to. But, what they most probably did was keep the fire “at home” going. So a day was wasted when the tribe should have been doing more important things. Consequently they were way behind before they started.

Leadership has been a real problem. The producers should have stayed with the team for at least a week to identify possible leaders and prepare them. Instead the archer got the job and he has been singularly unable to make an impression on many members of the group. Why? He is too soft. He's a conciliator. He's a man of his time – that is to say our time. A good example would be his dealings with Amir. Amir is a waste of space. He has contributed nothing to the success of the experiment. In the last show, he calmly announced that he was only prepared to continue with the experiment if he was provided with a mobile phone call home each week and at least one hot meal per week as well!

Oh, did I mention that the producers had to step in and provide food so the tribe did not either starve or quit altogether?

Steve has been either unable or unwilling to tell Amir to go away. The tribe think that more people means more success – actually they need less people and more skills!

Steve is an archer – a hunter. He should be hunting. Instead he decided to bank on fishing as the food saviour. There is a small lake about 2 hours walk away. The lake has fish. The tribe have no way of catching them. They tried to make some hooks out of bone from the deer. They don't work. In any event they had no way to leave the bank and get out on the lake where the big fish are.

Again the producers should have provided them with hooks made by the survival expert. They should not have been expected to re-invent the wheel. They should have been provided with a boat – made to stone-age specs. Then they could have then sent the girls out on the lake to fish whilst Steve went hunting. With some sort of secure food supply they would stood some sort of chance. Instead, all they managed to do was to make less than adequate traps to catch crayfish. The caught six or seven in two days. Disaster.

They may make it for a little while longer – with the help and intervention of the production team. But, as an experiment in Stone Age living it has been a very poor test. The tribe have tried but have not really been given a realistic chance.

Good TV but poor premise.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

10 000 BC

A real lesson

On Channel Five – a channel which I seldom watch – they are showing a programme called 10 00 BC. The premise is as simple as it is problematical.

Take twenty ordinary people from GB with a selection of practical and life skills, maroon them in a forest in Bulgaria for eight weeks with no technology from the 21st Century; and see how they make out mimicing our distant ancestors. The twenty included both men and women. Some had real outdoor experience either rock climbing, camping, or orienteering. Some had useful “civilian” skills such as archery, fishing and construction. They were a real cross-section of society – minus the “intellectuals”. For, only the end of the Stone Age and the development of agriculture would bring the deveopment of the complex, technological societies we see today.

Quite ordinary folks in an extraordinary situation, really. The group contained lots of your “I know a guy just like that” types.

Just to be on the safe side the producers had a survival expert stay with the group for two days to get them going. Sort of. They also provided them with a source of fresh water and three or four huts built to pre-historic specifications. Being kind-hearted folks they even left a freshly killed deer behind to provide a head start in the food race.

A film crew stayed with the group – otherwise there would be no film and no show! This is glossed over by the documentary makers, but an intelligent viewer would realise that they were not really marooned because the film crew (and therefore help) was always there in the background.

As an example, before the show got underway an elderly (late 50's) lady was taken ill and removed from the site before the challenge really got started. Also, one of the lads decided this was not for him and left. So, in practice rescue is really only a phone call away.

The first day was a bit of a lark. After spending some time trying to butcher the deer, they rightly decided that the priority was to get a fire started. Good call.

They had no matches, no butane touch, no nothing except a primitive bow and stick fire-making tool which our ancestors might have used. They spent most of the day trying and trying to get it to work after the first effort failed miserably. Finally, just as dark fell, they made it. Fire! Prometheus would have been really pleased!

With the fire going and sticks collected you might think that they were off to a good start. They roasted some of the deer over the fire and went to bed suitably fed and probably feeling as if a really good start had been made on Day One.

Day Two dawned. The left-over deer, which they had hung on the branches of a tree, was covered in flies. The weather was unseasonably warm and they were constantly attacked by the local mosquitoes. Some of the group were reluctant to get out from underneath their nice, warm animal skins. By evening the survival expert had bid they farewell and they were on their own. Wisely, they decided to “elect” one of their number as leader. The bow and arrow expert got the job. His success would be measured in the amount of co-operation and respect he could gain from the others. He did make a start at assigning jobs to various small groups. Some when to forage for edible plants. Some dug a primitive latrine. Some had another go at getting some useable meat from what was left of the deer. Some, alas, did very little.

One bright spark decided he knew where some edible mushrooms were and led a group in a wild goose chase after taking a wrong turn. Steve, the leader, led a foraging group who stopped to try and strip bark from a silver birch to use to make some sort carrying pots or containers. After spending hours with their flint tools, they decided it was too difficult, gave up and collected a few roots instead. One particularly dopey guy decided to spend the whole day devising a trap to catch a wild boar. If it works, which I suspect it won't, it might give a boar a headache of a bruised rib. Kill it? Not a chance.

Back at camp, it was discovered that despite having dug a latrine, a person or persons unknown had defacated quite near the tents. By the end of Day Two, food was running low, (the deer meat was covered in maggots) and it began to dawn on the group that this was not going to be a jolly camping trip in a charming, benign woodland setting after all. Dejection had well and truly set in. There were signs of tensions within the group. Some were clearly not pulling their weight. Some had been reduced to tears by trivial set-backs. Leadership was lacking. A sense of community was not really developing.

As the programme develops, the weather is going to turn colder and colder. You can clearly see this in the intro which shows our Stone-Agers shivering in their shelters with the snow falling and a good covering of the white stuff already on the ground. Lots of fun to come.

So, what have we learned so far?

Life in 10 000 BC was hard – very hard. I'm convinced that we have no real idea of how hard our ancestors had to work just to stay alive. I'm convinced the poor souls in this programme have no real idea how hard they will have to work if they are to make it to the end of the eight weeks.

Food is the essential and they show no sign of being able to either hunt for it or forage for it. Already some people are complaining of being hungry. This is despite the gift of a deer and the results of two days foraging. Do we “moderns” really understand hunger? I suspect not (except for those unfortunates in Third World Countries – actually the third-worlders might do a better job of surviving than this hapless crew of GB's finest!).

Clothing became a real problem real soon. The unseasonably warm weather meant a plague of insects, particularly flies. And where you have flies, you will have maggots. The animal skinsthey were using as bedding became infested with maggots, so the producers replaced them with wollen blankets on Day Two.

Shelter is just about Ok for the moment, but when it gets cold they are going to experience life like our ancestors, who must have been mostly cold most of the time in the winter.

This programme focuses the mind on the journey we made to get where we are. It has been a long one. It has been a costly one. It has been one of fits and starts. But, modern man is the product of people who overcame these kind of challenges. What seems to be missing is the ability to put to one side the usual modern sensibilites. To survive our ancestors must have been fairly ruthless – especially with those who did not pull there own weight. The Bulgarian guinea pigs seem unable to do this at present. If they can't master the skill of working together they will surely fail. I look forward to the rest of the programme.