We have been busy with lots of disconnected odds and ends on the project this week. Dan has washed a very large quantity of mud (part of getting the soils samples ready to go to be analysed in Lancaster next week), I have sent and answered many emails and looked at lots of spreadsheets but none of this necessarily makes great material for a blog post.
I did have a good trip to Ormskirk on Friday night. I went to give a talk to the West Lancashire Archaeological Society about Neanderthals, Before I got my present job at Preston I was a post-doctoral researcher in Wales, working on the later stages of a very long running research project on Pontnewydd Cave. The final results of this project were published just about the time I started this blog. Archaeologically, it is easily the most significant and important thing I have ever been involved in. In fact, I suspect that whatever I find in the rest of my career, my little bit of the Pontnewydd project will remain as my major contribution to archaeology.
This is the inside of the main cave at Pontnewydd being excavated during the early 90s. Stephen Aldhouse-Green, who ran the project, excavated at Pontnewydd for over 20 years. The cave is in the Vale of Clwyd, in North Wales. Sometime before 225 000 years ago, early Neanderthals used the area outside the cave to make and use their stone tools. They also, we think, used the cave as a place to leave dead members of their group. There are 21 human teeth from the cave: all that is left, after all that time, of between five and sixteen different Neanderthals.
When I first arranged to do the Ormskirk talk I intended to focus on the Pontnewydd excavations, with a bit of a background about what a Neanderthal was. Looking over the slides I used, about 70% of my talk turns out to have been background of one kind or another. Revising all this stuff before the talk (and you do need to revise, human evolution is one of the fastest moving and most contentious fields in science) brought back one of my own personal pointless irritations.
This has nothing to do with academic debates but everything to do with children’s fiction. When my son was small, like many kids, he loved his dinosaurs. Stories and toys for pre-school children still regularly have dinosaurs and cavemen together. Despite a stern parental veto on the Flintstones chronology some of this stuff has crept into the house. High on the list of shame are a Ravensburger puzzle and a board game¹ (allegedly educational toys from Germany) but my personal bete noir is our copy of Dinosaurs Love Underpants. Not only does it conflate 65 million years of evolution but it has an annoying noise-making button built into the book which the little one has just discovered the use of.
Since I am aware that this is not one of the burning issues of the day, I will rescue the positive tone of the post by providing a plug for the excellent Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson. This is a brilliantly illustrated picture book with an entirely Quaternary fauna and fantastic pictures by Emily Gravett.
¹Fairness compells me to admit that it is a very good board game, with cunningly compulsive reversed gameplay. It’s called Dodge a Dinosaur.