Stone Age Children
Where can we find traces of Stone Age children in archaeological sources? Did prehistoric hunters and gatherers have a concept of childhood? Which finds and findings support this idea? The Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann (Germany) seeks to answer those questions in their latest temporary exhibition:
A reconstructed campsite forms the center of the exhibition. Numerous archaeological finds and reconstructions illustrate the everyday life of Stone Age children. Life-size reconstructions of their cuddly contemporaries baby mammoth and baby woolly rhinoceros are waiting to be admired. Exciting hands-on areas allow young visitors to discover their own inner Stone Age kid. These interactive areas illustrate the significance of play. Unlike today, back then the border between free time, play, and work was blurred. The things children learned during play later ensured survival in their Ice Age surroundings. Young visitors can try on authentic Stone Age clothing, relax in a yurt, go fishing, walk barefoot over an Ice Age path, and discover many other things. How do we know so much about the Stone Age? Children are invited to try out archaeological research methods and identify animal bones, examine pollen under a microscope, or try to arrange skeletons.
Hunters and gatherers living in the last Ice Age were very active people that often had to find new campsites, depending on where they could find food. Their small groups protected the Stone Age children and made them feel safe. The children were carried around often and breastfed until they were about three years old. They were probably allowed to be curious and to try out many different things. However, their life was far from a perfect paradise: child mortality was higher than it is today and their bones tell us that children often suffered from malnutrition, especially during the winter. Skeletal remains of Stone Age children will also be on display in the exhibition. Some Stone Age children were buried in richly endowed graves. One such grave is one of the highlights of the exhibition. The „prince“ of Arene Candide, a cave in Liguria, Italy, was buried in a bed of red ocher. He was richly decorated, wearing a cap trimmed with hundreds of snail shells and stag teeth as well as a pendant made of mammoth ivory.
Childhood is defined differently in different ages and regions. In some societies children have the space to develop freely, in others they have to work hard. Although children in Germany today have rights and a low mortality rate, they are also a disadvantaged group. Biologically, our children are still Stone Age kids. In taking the Stone Age quiz at the end of the exhibition, children and their parents can discover how much of the Stone Age child is still left inside them today.
Does looking at how children grew up back then allow conclusions about education today? How can we do the Stone Age child justice in large cities dominated by media? In order to delve deeper into the topic, a public symposium will be held on September 20th. Scientists and educators will take a close look at various aspects of education and upbringing in our society and enter into a discourse with the public.
The exhibition is based on an exhibition project by students of the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and was developed further and expanded by the Neanderthal Museum. The exhibition will be on display until November 3rd 2013.