Clare in 2020

Clare Merry studied anthropology and sociology at Oxford Brookes University in England obtaining a BSc Honours degree in 1984. She went on to study sociology at Aix-en-Provence University in France obtaining a masters degree in 1990.

Physical anthropology is the study of human evolution while social anthropology is the study of the cultures of primitive tribes. Both of these aspects of anthropology were included in her studies. Sociology is the study of modern society so this combined well with anthropology.

Clare speaks three languages: English, French and Spanish. This has allowed her to study papers in anthropology written in these three languages.

She lived in Chile for 11 years on the edge of the Atacama desert in the north and on the island of Chiloe in the south during the 1990s. A traditional way of life was the norm on the islands of Chiloe so this was a good setting to get to work thinking about anthropology.

Libraries are the places where you gather information about primitive tribes, and museums are the places where you view artefacts and fossil bones. But it was good to live in the actual places previously inhabited by canoe nomad tribes to get a feel for the life they led and problems they confronted.

I visited many shell mound sites on beaches around Chiloe left by the Chono tribe. I also spent summer in a hut located on one of these ancient sites with my family. I was washing up on the beach one day when a huge cruise ship came round the corner, moving through the channel in between the islands. It was as if a city all lit up had moved itself into prehistory and I was this wild beach woman stood staring at it in disbelief. Everyone on the ship was amazed to see and photograph this rare sighting of a primitive native who, as it turned out, was not a native after all (although at the time I had long dark hair and tanned skin). It’s moments like that when you realize what it is to be normal by one set of criteria and totally primitive by another set of criteria.

It was an experience that made me think that the judgments we make according to our cultural norms can be so mistaken. I think that great injustices have been done to prehistoric mankind. Those buried in prehistory and dug up at archaeological sites to be displayed in museums can never answer back to put the record straight. I decided that I would set things to rights and rewrite prehistory according to the actual fossil evidence and artifacts that have been found for the different species of prehistoric humans. I would show that these so-called hominids were just as human as any of us.