There are a range of ways you can undertake CPD – attend a conference, read a book or even watch a Tv programme. Last week as part of developing my CPD portfolio, I attended the British Museum’s Palaeolithic Summer School. Now as you might imagine the prospect of a week of schooling by experts from one of the world’s greatest archaeological institutions sent a bit of a tremble through the knees! I needn’t have worried though.We were a mixed band of travellers on this particular road to knowledge, from first year undergraduates to retired specialists from other disciplines, but the course organiser Dr Claire Harris and the other members of the British Museum team put us at our ease at the outset.
The week began with a tour of the venue – Franks House, a rather bland looking building near Regents Canal and not as you might think the rather grand building on Great Russell St. However, within its walls lie a collection of over 2 million objects, most of them from the Palaeolithic. Among them are some of the oldest objects made by our ancestors found at Olduvai George in northern Tanzania dating to over 1 million years old. We were also introduced to staff members who were going to be giving us presentations on their current projects. The day then turned to the question of illustration, recording and scanning.
It might not sound like a relevant topic but with the advance of technology the question of how we choose to record and store our information about very much older technology is a very important. The old technology in the form of lithics for example is not going to change, but who remembers floppy disks? Craig Williams of the museum illustration team showed how advances in digital technology is being used by them to provide a valuable resource for researchers and members of the public by way of the on-line catalogue. More impressively we saw how free software can be used by anyone to create great 3D images of artefacts – something which we here at Enrichment will be following up in projects we are involved in!
Day 2 saw us updating our knowledge on our closest ancestors – the Neanderthals. Now they often get a very bad press but recent decades however, have seen a form or rehabilitation of this and we learned more from Dr Beccy Scott who is a member if the Ice Age Island project which is exploring some of Jersey’s more distant heritage. At the time of the Neanderthal occupation, Jersey was part of mainland Europe and the cave of St Brelade de La Cotte which now overlooks the sea, was several kilometres inland and was a site where Neanderthal hunters trapped and killed Woolly Mammoths.
Neanderthal people were in many ways very similar to modern humans – they ate the same sort of food, made the same sort of tools etc. What was different was their physical appearance – they were thick set/stocky and very muscular. Analysis of Neanderthal bones found across Europe suggests that they lived an active, rugged lifestyle – and this is based on the evidence of old injuries on the bones which are very similar to those sustained by modern-day rodeo-riders. Dr Scott to the opportunity to show how a characteristic tool of Neanderthals could be made using a potato. Despite the difference in textures etc it was a great way of demonstrating an everyday skill from many thousands of years ago. There are only a few sites in Britain which bear evidence of Neanderthals and much of this is due to the effect of the Ice Ages which destroyed and re-shaped the land into what we recognise today.
In part 2 I’ll move on to the second part of the week which focused on the Upper Palaeolithic and our modern human ancestors in which we saw some simply fantastic archaeology!
Ian Parker Heath