The difference between frogs and toads? Nothing apparently.
There’s a particularly fascinating dig going on at the moment. It’s an investigation into the Mesolithic archaeology around Amesbury, Wiltshire. Obviously every story generated about the excavations has to feature the word ‘Stonehenge’. There are two reasons for this – the first is that it is, undeniably, close by. The second is that UK journalists seem unable to cope with the concept of prehistory unless it includes a reference to Stonehenge, gold, or cannibalism. Some, I imagine, may dream of the day when all three words can be used in a single headline. Others, the older hacks, dread the idea, realising that there would be no way of topping it, bringing an end to easy page filling Stonehenge stories.
Damn you Stonehenge. It would have been better for British prehistory if instead of removing a section of the A344, we’d have crushed your useless rocks and used the gravel to build a new road. That way at least some lesser known archaeology would have got a look in.
Or would it? To illustrate the point (Stonehenge mentions aside) the press were recently given the opportunity to cover the Blick Mead excavation findings. There are many remarkable things to be pointed at and spoken of in tones of awe and wonder, but instead they picked up on the fact that a charred toad’s leg was part of an assemblage of animal remains from 8,000/10,000 years ago.
But even that’s not interesting. They had to change it to a frog’s leg. And then turn that into some faintly (faintly?) xenophobic guff about having beaten the French to the snack they’re so famous for. Or that we deliberately tie them to for some cheap borderline racist fun. So Mesolithic frog’s legs then. Anything else we need to cover?
The BBC story helps us out with “The term Mesolithic refers to specific groups of archaeological cultures defined as falling between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic periods.”
Well thanks for that. If you already knew what Palaeolithic and Neolithic meant you’d already know what the Mesolithic was. But regardless of our depth of knowledge and/or qualifications, we’re all going to have to struggle with “specific groups of archaeological cultures” because it means precisely less than fuck all in this/any context/language. They may as well have gone with “The specific thing that we’re talking about can be defined by the two specific things that sit either side of it. Do you know what they are? Good for you/tough shit.”
In the interests of balance, the BBC weren’t the only offenders – the story was everywhere.
So the story, once a glimpse into the culinary practises of the Mesolithic, and one of the most interesting archaeological finds of the year, is now the following:
“Ha ha the French eat frog’s legs. Oh, looks like we English started it, even though neither France or Britain, let alone England, recognisably existed then, and it was a toad leg anyway. A toad leg. Not a frog leg. And it was one. So one person definitely ate a toad leg, or might not of done, it could have been thrown on the fire for a laugh, about 10,000 years ago, so that’s the story. We beat the Frogs. Oh, does that make us the Frogs? No, that makes the Frogs stupid.”
But, as I say, it was not a frog. At best it makes us toads.
But still, fuck it. Here’s another picture of Stonehenge.