The following conversation would be nothing unusual in the Préhistomuseum of Ramioul. ‘Did you find anything to eat yesterday?’ ‘No, my spearhead was out of order. And there were some hic-ups with the hyena too.’ ‘Sundried berries then?’ ‘Thanks! I’m already thinking about the appetizers. Do we still have some nuts?”
We don’t know if it’s a 100% scientifically proven that prehistoric Belgians had appetizers, and it’s not something you’ll learn here. But that’s about the only thing you won’t learn here. For two years the 30 acres large archeological site in Flémalle closed its doors to do some serious remodeling. The result is excellent, especially because they thought about young visitors.
The oldest findings of human presence in Ramioul date from 75.000 BC. Our extinct buddy Neanderthal used to live here in the region of Luik. There where also findings of extinct animals predating the ice age, about 35.000 BC. And the discovery of the bones of seven children from 2300 BC made quite a stir as well.
The excavations on the archeological site started from the 19th century and where the starting point of further scientific research. The cave where the seven children were found, is now a classified monument that you can visit. Preferably with a flashlight (present at the site) and a bit of bravery (to bring with you).
‘The mammoth shaped playground is spot on’
A trip to the Paleolithicum starts at the mammoth shaped playground, where everything is made out of wood and invites the youngsters to hang, balance, climb and slide. It’s no surprise that the girls storm to the playground like mad dogs, but also Felix and his buddy Alexander go for it – “we’re really not children anymore, you know!”. It is with some relief that the kids discover that the term ‘museum’ is a concept with multiple interpretations. Suddenly they’re all up for a prehistoric trip. Our first stop has proven to be a success.
Arrow and beard
The late wintersun comes down merciful, so we decide to stay outdoors as long as we can and postpone our visit to the museum itself till the end of the afternoon. A bearded archeologist awaits us with the necessary tools to catch a (fake) animal. There are different trails filled with footprints by various animals. We try to ambush them with spears and arrows, quiet as mice.
‘Using a spear the kids have to catch their dinner’
Not as easy as it sounds: it takes quite some skills and not all of our young hunters seem to get their technique perfect. Mirtha manages to catch a nutritious deer. It seems the others have moss for dinner tonight. Well,…there’s always tomorrow.
Lump of clay
After the adrenalin filled hunt it’s time for some creativity: they’ve spotted the pottery workshop. Here too an archeologist is at hand, who shows the young crowd how they did it back then and how they made something useful from a lump of clay. Every day there’s a new workshop, showing kids how their ancestors went about things. They take a hands on approach, rather than diving into big theories.
The farm, a bit further in the woods, has a vegetable garden where prehistoric crops are grown. Instead of cows you’ll find oxen here. We’ve reached the era of the first farmers, dating back around 5300 BC, when hunter-collectors made way for the first forms of farming. This shaped a whole new society, that we still continue to develop.
The kids make their way through a labyrinth that represents human evolution. Not quite a straight line from our ancestors to the homo sapiens as you would imagine, but lots of side tracks, dead end streets and dangerous rocky roads. At the beginning you’re in Africa, about 8 million years ago. If you manage to leave the labyrinth at the correct exit, you’ve made it: you are a ‘modern human’. You can also leave through the wrong exit; just know you will be classified as ‘Ape’. We already had our suspicions, and they seem to be correct. Lucy and Mirtha leave this evolutionary quest as apes. Not that they seem bothered by it at all.
‘There are limits to being hungry as a wolf’
The museum itself was designed by architect Gil Honoré from Liège. Inside the kids receive a tablet that provides the necessary information for all the items on display. The interactive part isn’t that big and because we have been on quite a journey already, we soon head for the Archéo restaurant. ‘I hope we don’t get food that’s gone bad for over 3000 years, or that they’ve excavated’, Felix says. There are limits to ‘being hungry as a wolf’.
A bit later we discover, with some relief, that the lasagne the kids ordered looks fresh. Did they have lasagne back then? ‘No, not really’, chef and gastronomical historian Pierre Leclercq admits. ‘But we want to make sure kids like it here.’ Fair enough. The crisp salad we get served however does exist of prehistoric ingredients. The chef also doesn’t mind cooking up Roman, medieval or dishes from the 18th century.
Before we head back to the 21st century, we make one more stop in the past: the museum gift shop. Felix buys a bow and arrow, to make sure he catches his dinner back home. You know, in case there’s no lasagna.
Préhistomuseum Ramioul, Rue de la Grotte 128, 4400 Flémalle. Info: www.prehisto.museum. Good to know: you pay an entrance fee per hour that you spend on the site.