My Mesolithic experience. Timecamp 2000

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Cavegirl

Member
Mar 21, 2015
12
1
Morecambe
Following my introduction post a couple of folks have expressed interest in a project I took part in back in 2000, as part of the millenium celebrations, called Timecamp 2000, where a group of 12 volunteers signed up to recreate certain aspects of Mesolithic life for a week. It was a very similar if smaller version of the 10,000 BC program. I'm just going to offer my personal experience of the project here, but if anyone would like to read the full article written on the project this is the citation:

Rebekah Judeh. In Peopling the Mesolithic in a Northern Environment, BAR Vol. 1157 (15 August 2003).

The Project:

The project was designed by John Stokes as part of the Sandwell Council Millenium project and was aimed at educating the public about the Mesolithic period. Every day of Timecamp was filmed by the local news for short segments and the final weekend of the project was opened to the public as part of the August Sandwell Show so they could visit us and ask questions.

We had several preparatory meetings where we were taught the basics of fire lighting, flint knapping, plant recognition, net making, basket weaving and first aid etc over camping weekends.

The group was composed of people with a range of skills and knowledge- there was a master bowman, a few historical re-enactors, some archaeology students, a journalist and an accountant amongst others. None of us had any specialist knowledge of the period and as this was the days really before Ray Mears much of the stuff we learned was completely new to us, but might seem very basic now.

Sandwell Valley is a nature reserve so we weren't allowed to hunt or fish locally and meat was brought to the camp via local culls. We also had access to drinking water and proper toilets. The project was focussed more upon experiment than survival.

The Camp

The camp was set up in a little clearing surrounded on 3 sides by shrubs and trees. We used a bow drill as a firelighting method which took several hours to get going. We initially had two fire pits, one for cooking and one for smoking meat which we placed under an A-frame covered by foliage to keep flies out. Later we added a third fire inside the hut for warmth at night and we also dug a clay-lined oven pit (filled with hot rocks and ashes) in which we cooked a large chicken over night, which was very successful. We went through immense amounts of firewood, collecting it was actually a full-time job for several people in the camp.

The hut was constructed using large hazel poles covered with hides (reclaimed waste from a local leather factory). We wove coppiced hazel through the base of these poles to about 2 feet, but should probably have gone higher to give it more stability. A heavy rain storm on the last weekend caused it to buckle to one side.

Flint knapping and tool making was confined to a specific workspace to prevent sharp shards of flint getting underfoot. We tried using birch bark tar as glue for the tools, but found that it melted easily under hot sun. We hard-sharpened wood above fire embers and used nettle twine and animal sinew as lashings. We created arrows using coppiced hazel and found that they shot very well (in skilled hands, not so much in mine). We lashed hide from a fresh deer kill onto a frame and created scrapers to remove the fat and then rubbed deer brain into the skin and hung it over the fire in order to tan it. We created large baskets which we made into rucksacks using leather straps to aid with foraging firewood.

Food and clothing.

After day 3 almost all of our focus was upon food, or rather the food we were craving for. During the week we had a complete deer carcass (skinned and butchered by us using flint tools), some chickens and some fish alongside turnips, mushrooms, berries, hazelnuts and local herbs and fruit. The highlight of lunch for me was not however the meat, but the crushed fruit sauces or wild garlic we used to flavour it, the additional sweetness and flavour was necessary for my modern palette and a welcome relief from constant smokey flavour. Most of the food was skewered over the fire embers, but as I've mentioned we also 'oven' cooked one of the birds.

We made our clothing ourselves from reclaimed leather using basic American Indian patterns. We also made shoes or boots from a simple moccasin pattern that were pretty successful.

Social life.

The first 2 days of the camp were busy and very productive. John Stokes was the natural 'leader' of the camp having created and organised much of it, however he was happy to confer and defer to others on general points. Most tasks were self-appointed, if something needed doing people volunteered quickly and happily or simply got on with it themselves. However, even in August, the nights were extremely cold and the new diet was difficult to adjust to, particularly I think for the 2 vegetarians of the group. A few days in some people started to become lethargic, bored and short-tempered regarding the camera crews that would turn up and disrupt everything. This particularly seemed to grate on the 3 'alpha' males of the group and small tensions started to arise, though thankfully those of us in the middle took a proactive stance and became the diplomats of the group to smooth things over. Overall relationships were good and a lot, if not everything, got done.

Nights around the fire were the time for story telling and group bonding. We would often paint our faces with woad and tell funny stories or come up with fun things to do the next day. We all slept together in the same hut, which was a useful bonding experience. We took turns to keep the fire alight through the night with no issues. By the end of the experience I classed all of the relative strangers I'd met there as good friends.

Overall the experience was difficult but fantastic and I would definately be happy to do something similar again (perhaps not on TV though).

A couple of funny memories:

My first funny memory was during the weekend of the Sandwell Show, the whole park was taken over by various stalls and displays. Myself and two friends were walking along one of the woodland paths, dressed in our leathers with spears and baskets foraging for firewood when we came across three people walking towards us all dressed in Star Trek costumes. There was a short period of staring at each other followed by a slight nod as we passed each other and then the sound of laughing from both groups after we'd passed.

My second funny memory was on the final night of the project. There was a torrential rainstorm and the hut started to subside so we all agreed for safety sake to sleep in the parks main building that night. One of the women put a shank of venison in the oven to cook and we all apparently had forgotten how ovens work because a few hours later the smoke alarms went off and a few minutes after that the fire brigade turned up and seemed to find it hilarious that a bunch of bedraggled people in skins had burnt their dinner. It actually made the local newspaper the next day to our complete embarassment!

I've just provided a little overview of the Mesolithic below in case anyone is new to the period:

The Mesolithic.

So the Mesolithic period spanned from c.10,000 BC to 4500 BC. It occurred during the 'climatic optimum' when global temperatures were several degrees warmer than today, which melted the remaining glaciers of the Devensian ice age and eventually flooded the area of the North Sea cutting Britain off from the mainland. Britain would have been heavily forested and people probably followed the main rivers and waterways for movement, as well as the coastlines. People lived in groups of up to 50 people which were composed of extended families. They would have moved seasonally, following migratory animals and would have set up base camps from which smaller groups of people headed out in various directions to hunt and forage. It was probably warm enough usually that these mobile people lived in the open, just taking refuge in tree boles or rock shelters when necessary. Different groups must have met up occasionally to exchange goods, with people changing groups in order to prevent in-breeding. There's no real evidence of conflict between groups at this time and they may have followed strict rituals when crossing into another groups territory. The groups were bound together through family ties but also through rituals, there appears to have been a widespread belief in animisms (animal spirits aiding the hunt) and there was probably a strong oral and dance tradition of passing on knowledge similar to the Aboriginal Dreamtime.
 

Cavegirl

Member
Mar 21, 2015
12
1
Morecambe
I do have some photos, but they're not digitised, I'll try to pick a few good ones out and scan them at some point, but as a new member I'll have to wait I think before I can post them.

I'm afraid I wasn't involved in making the bow drill, it was brought to the camp ready made. It was 15 years ago and I may not be too great on some details. All the twine we made on site was from nettle fibres as these were readily available.

My initial thought for your natural twine issue would be to try hemp or jute as I think these are produce the strongest twines, though I imagine you've probably had a go with these?
 

Uilleachan

Full Member
Aug 14, 2013
585
5
Northwest Scotland
There was a fair bit of mesolithic-style scallop and razor-spoot gathering this weekend just passed, over the March Royals (lowest tides of the year), me I was real Mesolithic in that I let the women folk and kids do all the gathering, but I did help with the eating.

I did do all the shucking and cooking though.
 
My initial thought for your natural twine issue would be to try hemp or jute as I think these are produce the strongest twines, though I imagine you've probably had a go with these?

i've tried only nettle and harakeke (new zealand flax) and both failed... . somewhere someone suggested a leather thong but i have not tried that one, yet (mainly for lack of availability),either... . as i have jute available i might give that one a try- although i need to dig up my socket 1st and make a bowdrill set... .
 

boatman

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Feb 20, 2007
2,444
4
75
Cornwall
Another one this year with experienced experimental archaeologists and the like organised by Archaeological-Ecological Centre Albersdorf (DE). Have absolutely no doubt that this will work well and provide useful information.
http://neues.aoeza.de/

Their aim is to reconstruct the every day life of hunter- and gatherers of Mesolithic North Europe around 8 000 before present by doing an authentic as possibe life experiment with skilled re-enactors and experimental archaeologists, in order to gain a new type of insight of how life might have been then, which influences our modern habits might have on a realistic „back into the wild“ idea and how realistic our reconstructed tools, materials and skills work in everyday life under „Stone Age“ conditions might be. Other investigations might be included eg. which influence pure Mesolithic type food might have on our health, which type of mesolithic food is still available today, how realistic is such an experiment in an open air museum, how big ist the influence by visitors, limited space and restricted real hunting, fishing, gathering chances etc.
We shall use only materials and tools which we know from this period (or which are very likely to be authentic) and include as many activities and reconstructions as possible within our experiment.
A core of 4 – 5 skilled re- enactors and experimental archaeologists will live full time within the experiment. Others will come in as required and available for hours or days.
 
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Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
9,482
2,215
McBride, BC
boatman: I believe that the experience will reveal the great body of communicated knowledge needed to be adept at mesolithic living.
Years ago, there was a bison herd cull done in Yellowstone National Park. Very attractive geothermal mega-caldera, some 30-50(?) miles across.
Anyway, a bunch of the mesolithic folks were invited to use their tools to butcher the harvested animals. Sounds fair enough.
So many of them butchered themselves with blood-slippery stone tools that much of their activity was curtailed!
However. Their flint tools were vastly superior to modern steel.

Run a herd of bison over a jump (efficient). The butchery must have been fast and efficient to avoid spoilage of anything.
Meat, hides, horns, bones (marrow,) brains (tanning) = everything.

Today's voyeur public does not want to witness the butchery and dressing out of a bison. Somehow, killing fish seems innocuos.
Hunting with spears in a stone fish weir is a live-action video game. Crushing the multilayer bison skull for the brains is not.
 

Dave

Hill Dweller
Sep 17, 2003
6,019
8
Brigantia
Sounds like a great experience. I find that period of our history more interesting than any other. Not sure why though.
 

Wayland

Hárbarðr
Sounds like a well thought out project.

Using experienced, knowledgeable participants is really the only way to gain useful information from experiments like this.

TV companies of course are simply not interested in seeing such things working well because they seem to think watching a train crash in slow motion makes much better viewing.
 

Cavegirl

Member
Mar 21, 2015
12
1
Morecambe
I completely agree with you Wayland. In fact I'd be really interested to know what a modern hunter gatherer tribe had to say about European Mesolithic stone tools and other types of evidence if they were given the opportunity to handle and use them. I'm sure they'd notice things we would never even think of and we'd learn a huge amount of new info from them.

The German experiment does sound really interesting, I hope it's successful.
 

Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
9,482
2,215
McBride, BC
Modern flint knappers are magicians, no doubt in my mind! We don't seem to be able to raise the connected experiments as boatman explains in post #7.
By and large, traditional methods of salmon harvest remain as they have for centuries, stone fish weirs and all.
 

Cavegirl

Member
Mar 21, 2015
12
1
Morecambe
@ Boatman

It says on the Albersdorf website that they're reconstructing middle Neolithic lifestyles which will be focussed upon early farming techniques, pottery and housing from c.3000 BC. Is there a Mesolithic h-g project running too? I couldn't find anything on it.
 

boatman

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Feb 20, 2007
2,444
4
75
Cornwall
The Mesolithic information was posted on the EXARC website. Don't know any more.
 

boatman

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Feb 20, 2007
2,444
4
75
Cornwall
Amount of meat eaten is a very good question. There is no doubt that among hunter-gatherers meat is a valued food item and a prestigious one but, depending on the area, gathering can produce greater quantities of food. Hunting has social values and the hunting band has been suggested as a basis of social cohesion and development. Robert Ardrey in his Hunting Hypothesis proposed this in 1976 (my copy). However, I think the social effects of gathering has been underrated in past research. Quite possibly nurture as well as nature but a "kaffeeklatsch" seems as natural as a "band" of men, a team, a squad, of approximately the same size as an early hunting band.
 

vestlenning

Settler
Feb 12, 2015
721
76
Western Norway
To me the image of the stone age people eating a lot of meat looks like a myth. Here's an archaeologist talking about diets in the paleolitic period:

[video=youtube;BMOjVYgYaG8]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8[/video]
 

boatman

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Feb 20, 2007
2,444
4
75
Cornwall
There is the point about essential structural fats which are concentrated in the herbivore and thus made available to the carnivore. Another point is that few vegetable food sources are available to us without the use of fire. We can't eat grass or even grains directly and there is little evidence that early humans lived much on fruit.
 

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