With slices of wood attached to their feet, students forged a path to the Kokosing River through the thick brush of the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC).
“Basically we’re turning into elephants,” Professor of Anthropology Bruce Hardy said, referring to a mammoth, 15-foot tarp strung up between two trees and sporting an accurately scaled drawing of a Pleistocene woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).
The experiment in his “Neanderthals” class was an attempt to examine the “way-finding” techniques used by the early hominins for survival. According to Hardy, “Elephants use the same paths for hundreds of years. You can follow the same ones and they go from one resource to another, whether it’s water or minerals or food.”
For Kayleigh Loveland ’17, an anthropology major from nearby Mount Vernon, the connection between present-day hunters and the early hominins was obvious. “Hunters use deer paths today. Well, back then, [they] had elephants, [they’re] going to use the elephant path,” she said.
For Sean Deryck ’18, an anthropology major from Honolulu, Hardy’s classroom experiments made the Neanderthals’ reality more immediate. “It was cold as hell [then], and you have to actually go out, you’ve got to hunt, you’ve got to do all this,” he said. “You’d be absolutely crazy to imagine doing that. But they were capable of doing that. They lived for 250,000 years.”
Hardy cultivates these realizations in his students through his unique teaching approach. “We’ve been building fires,” Hardy said. “Getting the students to try it out and really just experience some of the stuff,” he said. “I can’t just say, ‘OK. You’re going to live like a Neanderthal for the next four months.’
“But the idea is to give them direct experience with as much stuff as we can.”
Hardy’s extra efforts have made their mark on the Kenyon community. Last year, the College awarded him the John B. McCoy-Banc One Distinguished Teaching Chair, a four-year position for faculty members who represent the tradition of exemplary teaching at Kenyon.
“I’m always excited to go to class … because it means learning to understand, even further, what techniques were used, what the Neanderthals had to do in order to survive,” Loveland said. “We also like to share any information that we’ve learned over the week in class that’s relevant to what we’re learning or doing, so it’s more than just the Neanderthals that we’re learning about. We’re learning about history. We’re learning about survival techniques.”
— Timmy Broderick ’16