Sunday, 17 February 2013

An arrow to the heart.

I arrived at the exhibition of Ice Age Art in the British Museum full of doubt.

I wanted to hear voices from far away, from down the long millennia; but I was afraid the ancient sculptures would be dumb and stiff and dead.

What did I see?

I saw the delicate step of a questing deer, the fierce low-thrust head of a goose, the arched neck of a proud horse, the massive threat of a bison's shoulders...

...and more, and more...

...the stillness and contemplative fragility of women huge with child; the smugness of a well-fed lion; the wide-eyed anxiety of a swimming reindeer.

Perhaps these things come from a time when all art was true. When all art was beautiful, honest, and yet still full of secrets.

Imagine a blade of flint perhaps 20 cm long but only 0.6 cm deep at its thickest part. Imagine the delicacy of it.

Imagine a flute made of a hollow bone, and then imagine music and singing and dancing.

Imagine a people 40,000 years away and yet close enough to feel their breath on your cheek.


On the way out of the museum we came across a table of treasures the public was allowed to hold. There was a Greek vase made 2,400 years ago; a piece of cuneiform writing (the oldest writing in the world) incised on clay; and a flint hand axe.

The axe was 350,000 years old.

350,000 years. Older than my species, then. Far older. It came from the time of the Neanderthals.

And, oh, but it was a fine thing, carefully made and effective.

Once more, the millennia melted away.


It's been an honour and a privelege to be able to spend a year in the company of Neanderthal man, but now it's time for me to make my way back to the present, to Homo sapiens and the world we've made for ourselves.

Many thanks to everyone who's visited this blog (especially to Adele Geras, who has made this blog immeasurably more interesting). I hope the story of our brother human beings has proved rewarding.

I may post the occasional update here, but from now on I shall be blogging chiefly at The Word Den. Further news about Song Hunter will be available from time to time at

May the world turn dazzlingly about you, and may you find a thousand songs of your own to sing,

Sally Prue

SONG HUNTER by Sally Prue. Oxford, 2013.


  1. Thanks for naming me, Sally! I will really miss this blog. It's been brilliant and what a way to round it all off...most beautiful piece. Good luck to all your creations, present and to come. Will now transfer allegiance back to sadly neglected and also terrific WORD DEN!

  2. Thanks, Adele, as always.

    The Ice Age has been terrific but, oh, I AM looking forward to summer!

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