Book review: Stig of the Dump

stig coverWe didn’t think Stig of the Dump would be worthwhile as a book to accompany Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, as, although enjoying it as children, we thought it would be a stereotypical and old-fashioned view of a ‘caveman’. But on starting to read, Stig comes across not as primitive, but as inventive, curious and bristling with skills and confidence, a very good model of an early human.

If you haven’t read it, the premise is that Barney, a normal eight-year-old boy, falls into the local disused chalk-pit while visiting his grandmother. He falls through the roof of a shelter and comes face to face with Stig, an early human. The two become firm friends and have great fun inventing new things to help Stig live in his new home, including a chimney out of old tin cans and a window out of bottles.

One thing is a little confusing, but only if you know a bit about the Stone Age! What kind of human is Stig? Is he an anatomically modern Homo sapiens? Or is he an earlier species of human, perhaps a Neanderthal? He is very inventive, and though his language is limited he managed to communicate with his young friend very well. He seems very keen on hunting horses, which would suggest he might have been from the Palaeolithic, but could still be either. Then, in the final chapter, Barney goes back in time to Stig’s home and ends up helping Stig’s community raise standing stones. This would place him firmly in the Neolithic, with anatomically modern humans, farming and pretty stable settlements. But in the original illustrations, the 1981 and 2002 series, he’s clearly meant to be some kind of earlier human.

You can bring out these inconsistencies in the book, and use them as a source of discussion, if you have a little knowledge about the chronology of the Stone Age. Another post on that should follow!

Here are some other teaching ideas you could explore:

  • Can children invent something new using rubbish? This could spark a conversation about recycling out of necessity, and recycling as a moral issue.
  • If Stig comes from the Stone Age, which materials that he finds in the dump would be new to him? Just because it’s called the Stone Age doesn’t mean everything was made of stone. Obviously, Stig would know about wood, leather and many more materials.
  • If Stig is a Neanderthal and Barney is a modern human, their meeting is a repeat of what happened around 40,000 year ago in Europe when the first Homo sapiens people arrived and found Homo neanderthalensis already living here. Neanderthals lived on for another 15,000 years or so. What were those years like? Did humans kill neanderthals? Did they hunt better? Or did they interbreed with them?
  • Challenge children to come up with one object they’d like to present to Stig and what he would think of it. Think about what object they’d like from Stig in return.

The story explores how early humans created fire, hunted, the kind of tools they created and even some spiritual aspect of their lives. It’s also an interesting book to highlight how children of only 50 years ago were expected to be very independent! Do your children think that they would be brave enough to do what Barney did?