My favourite statistic is that more people visit museums than go to football matches on a Saturday in this country. It therefore follows that only a fool would visit the Natural History Museum on this day of the week…
So anyway, a little detour from my usual rambles today but one which still involved walking into the past and therefore probably just about counts. The One Million Years exhibition is an accessible summary of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project and the current knowledge in this ever changing field. The first thing you encounter is head casts of the four species of human in our history: Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. The exhibition certainly goes a long way to giving Homo neanderthalensis a better image. For one thing, Ned the resident model Neanderthal is quite a good looking young man with a rather knowing look in his eye. He is supposed to be in his 20s but looks older and wiser, but then his life was probably arduous and his life expectancy was only 50 years. The message comes across quite well, I think, that our probable closest relatives were intelligent, resourceful and successful, occupying Britain for at least 350,000 years (compared to Homo sapiens who have only managed about 40,000 so far). I’m not sure if the Homo sapiens model has been given a name too but he is also rather ruggedly handsome and I liked his body painting.
There are some very fine flint and bone implements on display and the exhibition also covers climate and environment and the fauna that inhabited this land all those years ago. In some ways it seems a shame we no longer have lions, wolves, mammoths and the like roaming around. My favourite object on display was the skull cup from Gough’s Cave in Somerset. Three of these were found in the cave, two made from adult skulls and one from a child’s. Although this is clear evidence of cannibalism, it is thought that the skill and effort involved in the fashioning of vessels from human bone was representative of more than a purely pragmatic act and may have been symbolic in some way. Almost as interesting to me were the skeletal remains of a 33,000 year old Welshman recovered from Paviland (Goat) Cave in south Wales, which were found decorated with jewellery and dye, the earliest example of modern humans’ burial ritual in Britain. Anyway, an enjoyable exhibition and I am now firmly of the opinion that I would like my DNA analysed to see if there’s any Neanderthal in me. Bill Bailey, it turns out, is 1.5% Neanderthal so I’d be in good company.
Incidentally, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was both inspiring and fascinating too. There is much to learn from the write-ups on the methods as well as the camera settings used. As was the case last time I went to this annual exhibition, the split of Canon/Nikon cameras used was probably about 50/50 (although I am happy to be corrected by anyone who has actually done the maths).
http://www.ahobproject.org/, accessed 08.03.14
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/wpy/visit/index.html, accessed 08.03.14