I turned 54 recently (well not that recently I’m racing to 55 now!) and for the first time that feeling of old age hit me. I’m not old of course and I could live many more years – my mother just made 87 – but I did feel down and decided to research some elder statesmen who are a little older than me.
The oldest complete skeleton found in Britain is called the Cheddar Man (he was found in the Cheddar Gorge, he’s not made of cheese – you were mistakenly thinking of the moon there). He dates from around 7150BC: about 4,500 years before the first stones were erected at Stonehenge. Older parts of humans have been found, but the Cheddar man, who now resides in the Natural History Museum, is the oldest complete true Brit.
Mr Cheddar has butchery marks on his boles, as if he’s been professionally sliced up in some way. Naturally this being pre-history, this is contested: he may, for example, just have over enthusiastically scratched an itch. (if you’re turned off history cos it’s a bit argumentative don’t even bother going anywhere near pre-history. The guys in this field are animals). Turn away if you’re of a nervous disposition, but basically, he was probably eaten.
The Lindow Man meanwhile is the naturally preserved body of an Iron Age man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss, Cheshire. He lives in the British Museum and looks like a deflated football. Lindow man dates from between 2BC and 119AD the time of the Celts and the Druids and the good news is he wasn’t eaten. On the downside he was probably a human sacrifice. Of course all the sources saying the Druids/Celts sacrificed humans are Roman and therefore possibly fabricated, as they were unlikely to give good reviews of a population they were ruthlessly suppressing. The Roman writer Tacitus wrote of ‘religious groves dedicated to superstition and barbarous rites’; Lucian of ‘trees sprinkled with human blood’. But the archaeological evidence indicates that they may well have liked a touch of human sacrificing, probably usually criminals or slaves, possibly burnt alive in huge baskets made of wicker.
Human butchery in these isles. It’s a shocker. That’s your roots for you. You watch programmes on the tele like Tribe and you see a world where everyone is close to nature and to each other and no one is ever ignored for long and it all seems quite inspiring. Then some elder wise man strats beating the crap out of the kids with sticks (to ward off evil spirits) and you think: balls to that for a game of soldiers and move to Swindon instead.
I actually popped in to see Cheddar Man on my 54th birthday. I was on my way somewhere else but thought I was feeling very old and he would cheer me up – unfortunately he was out. Now I don’t mean he was REALLY out, on the town, doing the clubs, I mean he wasn’t on display. The books all say he’s in the Natural History Museum, he’s on their website. He’s the oldest complete skeleton found in Britain – of course he’s going to be on display in the country’s foremost repository of things historic – why would anybody need to check! And how would you check anyway; ring the museum and ask “is the Cheddar Man in?”
It’s all dinosaurs now of course. Old Cheddar man is upstairs in a cupboard somewhere. I’m sure they’ll put him out again one day – well if they haven’t chucked him in a skip or something. I came looking for solace that my old age feelings were nothing – I left with foreboding for my ignored future however limited that was.