Archaeology is Rubbish

Richard Fortey

  • After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC by Steven Mithen
    Weidenfeld, 622 pp, £25.00, June 2003, ISBN 0 297 64318 5

An excavation made in 1975, behind the town of Vedbaek in Denmark, revealed the body of a tiny child laid to rest in the embrace of a swan’s wing. Next to the skeleton was the grave of the child’s young mother, dead in childbirth, her remains decorated with snail-shell beads and pendants; her face had been dusted with red ochre, the better to seem alive. Mother and child had been interred around 4800 BC. It hardly requires the forensic eye of an archaeologist to interpret the grief felt by those who laid the bodies to rest, and the hope perhaps that the swan would carry the infant boy to a place where death was irrelevant. In such a site, the trowels and inventories of the investigating scientist are deployed to allow us to engage directly with people long passed from the Earth.

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