Still Left in the Dark

Daily Mail (London), February 23, 2000 | Go to article overview

Still Left in the Dark


Byline: PETER PATERSON

Ape-Man (BBC2); The Antiques Show (BBC2)

THE words 'perhaps' and 'maybe' are the missing element in Ape-Man, the BBC's latest exploration of the distant past.

The new series began last night, immediately adopting an attitude of dubious certainty on subjects - as happened in the recent Walking With Dinosaurs - that are still the subject of fierce debate among experts.

I doubt that many people will have accepted at face value Ape-Man's thesis that modern man as we know and love him was to be found drawing pictures on the walls of caves in south-west France precisely 25,000 years ago.

The simple reason is that not many viewers will have stuck with this pretentious, over-stretched arrangement of special effects linked by gobbets of theory masquerading as evidence.

Of course, the cave drawings of France, mostly of animals but with the occasional human form, are wonderful. The art is undoubtedly the product of homo sapiens rather than one of the various other forms of hominoid who previously walked the Earth for millions of years.

From the evidence of worked flints dug out of the cave floors, the artists probably lived in the Neolithic, or late Stone Age, though the programme did not identify them as such.

It was more concerned with claiming a spiritual dimension for the wall paintings, tortuously linking them with later works by South African bushmen, the hallucinations of modern Americans who can achieve an altered state of consciousness through self-hypnosis, and patterns discerned in London hospital patients with eye defects.

We have to wait until next week for the second of the six programmes in the series to focus on the actual origins of man, presumed to have been around five million years ago in Africa.

One wonders whether it wouldn't have been simpler and more educational - if that is the object - for the series to use a linear, chronological approach, rather than whimsically cherry-picking events from across the millennia, as with France's cavemen.

As it was, it took an awful long time to make the point that the cave walls on which the drawings were made were seen as - to use the words of a South African anthropologist - a kind of membrane between the spiritual and the material world.

He believes that certain characteristics in the patterns around the drawings, also seen in the images drawn by an extinct race of bushmen, the hypnotic dreams of the Americans, and the brain patterns observed in the eye patients, are common to a trance-like state.

LITTLE practical information was used to bring these ancestors of ours alive: What exotic substances might the shamans, or priests, have been on?

What did they use for light in the dark caves? …

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