Iron Age

· culture ·

I watched an interesting programme last night which found out what happened to people who had participated in some documentaries in the 1970s: "What Happened Next?" This episode caught up with a group of people who lived like Iron Age people for a whole year. They built their own roundhouse out of timber, thatch and wattle and daub, milked their own goats and ate gritty soaked wheat for breakfast. In contrast to modern reality shows, the focus of the original documentary seemed to be on exploring the processes involved rather than the personalities. It was more like a year-long experimental archeology experiment, rather than a reality show. There was a bit of conflict between one family and the rest of the participants, but other than that, they seemed to get on quietly with the required work without creating any fuss.

It was quite an impressive achievement, really. They did have some training from experts, but they turned their hands to house building, milking, blacksmithing, fishing, butchery and basket weaving, among other skills. They lived as comfortably as you can do as an Iron Age person, and they had enough to eat -- if a rather boring diet. The participants went on to do a variety of things, from special needs teaching to software engineering, but all seemed to take away a certain confidence and competence from their experience. It must be quite comforting to know that -- if the worse came to the worse -- you have the skills to survive in quite a primitive environment. One of the participants said something to the effect that Iron Age people and modern people are the same: we all use our skills to the best of our abilities in the environment in which we live.

One thing that made me laugh was the obvious lack of Health and Safety involvement in the original documentary. People wobbled at the top of fragile looking ladders while handling huge logs, wood was trimmed with a billhook towards the person helping to hold the timber, and in a memorable scene which made me cringe every time I saw the trailer, a naked man used a chisel while propping one foot up on a bit of wood. I'm quite surprised that they still had all their bits attached at the end of the year.