Sunday, July 8, 2012

A 600-Year Old Mystery Gets Solved

There is reality TV and then there's super reality TV.
The new Canadian made documentary Curse Of The Axe takes us way, way back in time to the early 1500s when Canada did not even exist.
Instead, in what is now Southern Ontario the Huron tribes dominated and this two-hour documentary begins with the discovery of a vast Huron village near present day Stouffeville.
The village is carbon dated back to 1500-1530 but its sheer size confounds the experts. Most Huron villages were composed of long houses that accommodated around 300 inhabitants.
This one by contrast is a Huron megalopolis with 90 longhouses, room for over 1,500 plus vast fields all around where the Hurons could cultivate their staple of corn.
An archeological dig headed by Dr. Ron Williamson unearths an amazing treasure trove of pottery plus one important piece of iron which is exceptional.
Because the Hurons were not yet in contact with Europeans the discovery confounds everyone --they simply had not acquired the expertise to make iron implements.
And how could they have felled the 60,000 trees needed to construct the longhouses?
And so begins our journey back in time as director Robin Bicknell recreates the life and times of an Indian people who would soon face near extinction from contact with the European invaders.
Williamson takes his treasure to the country's most powerful digital microscope where it's considered to be wrought iron. If it had been caste iron then most probably it was dropped there by a nineteenth century farmer.
The search expands to the current Huron reserve near Quebec city and a leading Huron spokesman Luc Laine who has been searching to piece together the history of his people.
And it expands again as Dr. Jennifer Birch shows us how the longhouses in this village followed an intricate pattern--the iron object was buried in the middle of these houses. Was it thus considered an object of evil?
Next stop is South Africa where an anthropologist can examine teeth that suggest the staple diet of the Hurons was corn --if so the fields would have to be vast to feed all the inhabitants.
And on it goes to Spain's Basque territory where Basques expert Dr. Michael Barkham and forensic anthropologist Andrea Carnevale may be close to tracking down its origin.
And if that's the case how could have arrived in the Huron village long before any explorers  showed up?
For these answers you'll simply have to watch as I did. One problem: the cliffhangers to every commercial break are irritating but in true reality TV style. Enough already!
Elliott Halpern executive produced for yap films and Robbie Robertson is the narrator. Director Bicknell also wrote and produced it.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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