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Stone Age Bike Age

Will Lord, professional flint-knapper:

"When I was a boy, my family lived in a house in the forest with no modern conveniences. We made bows and arrows and flint arrowheads, and we tanned animal skins.  At the time I wondered if I was missing out on modern-day life. Now I see I was living an incredible childhood adventure -which I'm still living."  

Will and his parents, John and Valerie Lord have spent the last thirty-odd years mastering prehistoric technologies and teaching these skills in classrooms and museums across Britain.  This family looks the part (long hair all round) and dresses the part (leather leggings, pelt ponchos and furry boots.) But this is no gimmick:  the Lords see themselves as keepers of the "skills and art" of their distant ancestors.

In August 2009, Jill (Shinefield, my co-producer) and I enlist John and Will to help us conjure up the people who lived during the heyday of Stonehenge.  On a hazy afternoon, father and son join us, in full regalia, at West Woods, about 20 miles from Stonehenge.  It's a densely wooded area where massive sarsen stones (like those standing at Stonehenge) lie strewn about the forest floor.

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Will Lord as an archer. Photo courtesy: Kevin Tod Haug

We send Will and John about 200 yards from camera, then film them trekking across the landscape, dwarfed by beech trees thirty feet high.  There's a walkie-talkie jammed into Will's bent-wood back-pack, so he can hear my directions.  On cue the men stop, shoot arrows, inspect sarsens.  They look so authentic, for a moment we're transported back in time.

Next we stage a scene to evoke the arrival of metal in Britain.  Will tucks an exquisite bronze axe into his belt:  my fantasy is that the sun will glint off the metal as Will emerges from the dark woods into a bright clearing.  Camera and sound are ready, and Will has ducked out of view among the trees.  I yell "Action!" once... twice... and again.  At last, Will appears, but he's accompanied by a young man hand-walking a bicycle.  Bronze Age meets Bike Age:  Will in his leather and fur, and the cyclist in color-splashed spandex shorts and those shoes that clip into bike pedals.  

There's been an accident.  The cyclist's buddy has fallen from his bike and sprained (or broken?) his ankle, just there inside the woods.  Can we help carry his friend, call an ambulance, retrieve his bike, drive the cyclist to his car?  Of course we can; we're a production team.  We mobilize. production team.  We mobilize.

 John and Will Lord.jpg
John and Will Lord. Photo courtesy: Kevin Tod Haug

Minutes later, supported by his friend on one side and Will on the other, the injured man hobbles into the clearing using Will's hand-carved walking stick as a crutch.  Suddenly, the ambulance appears and medical technicians take over -to my selfish relief.  It's late in the day, we're losing light, and we need that shot. 

Just then, John walks out of the woods wheeling the injured man's bike.  John wears a deerskin cap and a bear-claw pendant.  He has a quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder, and a flint axe in his belt.  He's every inch a Stone Age Man, and his eyes crinkle with glee as he rings the bell on the bike's handlebars.  "Looky here, everyone!  I've just invented the wheel!"  

Publicist Note: An enduring question about Stonehenge remains: how did Stone Age people --without the wheel or the use of metal--move and raise its stones? NOVA's "Secrets of Stonehenge" airing November 16, 2010... features exclusive coverage of an ingenious new experiment, based on an unusual prehistoric artifact.

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Gail Willumsen

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