Prehistoric Autopsy.

by Tyler Mackie

So I have abandoned this for a long time. I apologise but I have threw myself into the entire concept of university life, in my third year. It has been exciting, work has upped it’s game to a more challenging level and I also have realised that changing my degree to Archaeology was quite simply, one of the best decisions of my life.
So I shall start with an anecdote:
A few weeks ago I volunteered with the Prehistoric Autopsy Exhibition and it was my first time that I worked in a museum as an archaeologist rather than on the field. It meant adjusting your knowledge towards the public rather than discussing with your more jargon-affiliated colleagues who would know what you mean when you say ‘metatarsal’ or ‘Plio-Pleistocene’. And boy is the generalising and using more ‘public friendly’ language more difficult when you have children in the mix!
It takes real skill to firstly present a controversial topic such as evolution towards children – who may or may not be familiar at all – and then present to them a comprehensible viewpoint that the exhibition presents. To further confuse, the exhibition is with bias – it presents theories that it agrees with, omits others. As a student learning about Human Evolution, this complicated things further.
Quite often, the aims and the actual outcomes from the exhibition were quite different. Was it interactive? Yes. Was it informative? Yes, we had boards full of answers. Did the children understand the exhibition? That’s more difficult to say.
Did they really understand the ‘how’s’ and ‘whys’ or did they just have fun on the games without digesting the information on a deeper level?
Several occasions I would delve and give deeper answers and information to be met with a blank face. One of the activities was shell painting and at this activity we asked the children if they know why they were painting the shells. Many answered ‘nope’ and did not really want to know beyond that – they just wanted to paint pretty shells. Which is fair enough, mind you. Especially if you are a five year old, we did not expect them to ask about ritual and symbolism with relation to language capabilities, we did expect the mini fights over the prettier shells.
I’m unsure if the children did learn with the plethora of information that we tried to give them of they left with a few cool stickers as a badge of honour at their chimp-walking, shell making ability. I guess it’s an answer we won’t ever know.