Life and Death in Paleolithic Times

IMG_0824 Prehistoric human life was perilous, and the danger started at birth. That’s the lesson being learned by Ross School’s fourth graders as they take part in the annual Clan Baby Integrated Project. In a twist on the typical “babysit an egg” learning experience conducted across the country (usually for older students), Ross School students care for “clan babies” (eggs that this year were laid by the chickens at the Lower School Farm) in the context of learning about early humans and their rituals and everyday life.

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The class is divided into clans, and each clan is responsible for their newborn egg. The students learn that caregiving was a communal responsibility—that every member of the community worked together to protect the most vulnerable. In prehistoric times, if too many babies died, the clan itself would cease to be.

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This year’s cohort of clan babies got off to a bit of a rocky start, with one baby surviving only a very short time. To assuage the distress of the clan at the untimely demise, teacher Alicia Schordine allowed the group to “adopt an orphan” (a replacement egg from home) for the remainder of the week.

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To care for their babies, the students had to make sure that the babies were with someone at all times, fed three times a day, kept warm (the students made protective nests of natural materials), and safely put to sleep at night—in the refrigerator. The edict that the babies accompany students at all times meant that the eggs even got to visit the Long Island Aquarium with the class; one clan “elder” brought a stroller to keep their baby safe, and another made sure to give her egg a boost so it could see the fish on display.

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Over the course of the week, three more babies died, leaving one survivor. However, even the loss of the babies provides an opportunity for learning, as the clans who suffered a loss will now recreate death rituals to mark the passings. The clan whose baby survive will recreate a birth ritual for welcoming the new member of the clan. The rituals are scheduled to take place on October 23.

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