19 Apr 2017

Professor Caveman

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:08 pm on 19 April 2017

We would all benefit from a deeper connection to our inner hunter gatherer, an anthropology and archaeology teacher says.

Bill Schindler is not your regular college professor. He teaches anthropology and archaeology at Washington College and is known as ‘professor caveman’ for his strong focus on applied learning.

That means his students experience living as their ancient ancestors did, making stone tools, hunting and butchering animals and living off the land.

He told Jesse Mulligan he believes there is nothing like living as we did 200,000 years ago to understand living in the modern world.

Schindler grew up in New Jersey hunting, trapping and fishing, but having to travel some distance to do so.

He says that was when his interest in cavemen was really sparked.

“I really wanted to connect with my food and where my food came from, really since I was about five years old.”

Schindler was recently part of a programme called The Great Human Race, which aired on National Geographic.

“They wanted to tell a story of our shared ancestral past.”

Along with a survival instructor from Utah, he set out on a journey that began 2.5 million years ago.

“We locate ourselves in a place that was really important and monumental in our ancestral past… where something that we did in that time period really changed the game for our ancestors.”

At each location they had to survive using only the technologies available at that time.

“We created the shelters, we created the clothing, we made the tools, we hunted, we fished, foraged all of it.

“It was an awesome way to spread this word of what we’ve been for humans for millions of years.”

These days he teaches archaeology, which he says is a subfield of anthropology.

“We study, well really, dead people, but people nonetheless.

“The way I do it is through the replication and recreation of how people did things in the past.”

Schindler says most of his work is in recreating the technologies people used for millions of years.

The bodies that we have in the present day are the product of 3.5 million years of evolving diets and technology, he says.

“I think when we try and figure out ways of feeding ourselves, and very healthy ways ……and be more sustainable, then I think a lot of those answers can be found in the past.”

He says his students learn by doing.

“I take students abroad and we live a Stone Age life or an Iron Age life ….. where they’re butchering deer and skinning the animals.”

Schindler says it’s this applied learning that enhances his students’ experiences.

“They get rocks, make the stone tools, butcher the deer and go through the entire process of using the animal, not only for food, but for tools and for leather and they cook in the pots that they’ve built.”

The course allows students who may have difficulty at college to shine, and by the end of the course students are changed, he says.

He suggests to his students that we should all be hunters and gatherers - at least on a limited scale.

“A little bit of foraging, or we should go fishing, or we should hunt, go clamming or berry picking … those are the sorts of activities that allow us to reconnect with our past …The repercussions and consequences of that are vast.”