Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Bronze Age

I'm loving all this research into the distant past. having been camping in our tiny caravan recently, I'm very conscious of the basic human needs of shelter and water, access to food and other people. Our society has become increasingly reliant on wholesalers and retailers, communication technology and manufactured housing. I know this isn't all a bad thing, obviously we're not all squatting in roundhouses in the dark after a day of trying to harvest enough food to keep us alive for the whole winter. Life is potentially enormously better (although I'm aware I'm not speaking about everyone's life here - abject poverty still haunts large swathes of the world's population, as we know).

But imagining my character's journey through actual cold and hunger has made me very grateful for what we have what we take for granted. Our ancestors may have had bronze technology but most people relied on stone tools, the familiar animals we use now for food were lean, half wild creatures whose needs we had to place alongside our own. Dogs were only recently tamed from wolves, as wild and dangerous as gold rush huskies. All strangers were potential enemies. The woods were literally full of wolves and bears. We had to tread a fine line between high levels of vigilance and being paralysed with terror. The only thing between us and predators were spears and fire. There's evidence that if we did kill a predator, we ate it. Ate every part of a bear including its bone marrow and rendered fat. Winter was profoundly dangerous, and a lot of the work of the year was about filling that hunger gap and ensuring enough shelter, clothing and wood for burning. Life was short and incredibly hard work.

Meanwhile I find a tiny shiver of the past sitting outside until the light goes, the cold already creeping into me, the dew dropping onto my face. If I get my clothes damp or get too cold I won't be able to sleep, I'm so pampered. Sitting out in the dark of a campsite miles from a town brings out millions of stars, but every sound seems magnified. We don't have predatory animals anyway, just the odd human. But I'm scared of the cold, damp, dark, it's hardwired into me. I long for a warm hut, a wood fire, a couple of guard dogs and spear carrying hunters. This is the view of a roundhouse at Lower Merripit, where Russell did a workshop. When the fire is lit the smoke fills the roof so you have to sit down.

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