A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

TED-spiration: a day in the life of a Leiden caveman

It’s now nearly a month since Leiden’s very own TEDx conference where speakers from all over the Netherlands and Europe gathered in the Meelfabriek to inspire we Leideners (and token Leideners) with their ‘ideas that change the world’ (see Anna Frederike’s great post about the TEDx day here if you missed it:

I was also present at the TEDx day and listened intently to the speeches  given, getting ideas for everything from how to get involved with NGOs to why I may have cravings for certain foods. One of the most interesting speakers, however, was Marianne van Dijk, the Amsterdam cavewoman, and her tales of the drastic Jurassic lifestyle changes. When she first skipped merrily onto the stage, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There was certainly something that set her apart from the other speakers we had listened to although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When I craned my neck far enough to realise that she had trotted up onto the dais sans shoes, my inkling was confirmed. Marianne proceeded to open us up her world of cavewomaning around Amsterdam, which entailed much more than leaving her shoes snugly on the rack when she nips out to the shops. She follows the paleo-diet, she eats with her hands and she travels only on foot. She even admitted to brushing her teeth with a stick and said how she ‘gave up’ toilet paper several weeks ago (fear not, a handily-placed bottle of water in the vicinity of the water closet ensures that her whites stay Daz-white as long as the next man’s).

Some of what she was saying seemed extremely logical – there was sure to be a lot of truth in her mantra of cutting out processed sugars from your diet and cranking up your exercise routine a few notches – however some of it I sniggered at and dismissed as tosh without giving it too much thought. Eating with your hands? Pfff. Swapping Andrex for Evian? Pur-lease. Being health-conscious is one thing but being a 21st century caveman is another thing altogether. However I had to admit that her impassioned speech had definitely had an impact on me.

During the dinner break (which was delicious by the way – a far cry from anything last seen bubbling over a cave fire), I bumped into Marianne and was keen to find out more about her experiment. I asked her what the most difficult thing had been for her and she replied that it had been not shaving her legs as she said that she found having hairy legs to be repulsive. This surprised me as for someone willing to share with all and sundry that they brush their teeth with a bit of tree and have crossed toilet paper off their weekly shopping list for good, I expected something as aesthetic as having hairs on ones legs to be of little worry to a cavewoman. She turned the question back on me and asked what I would find the most difficult if I were to try and be a caveman for a bit. I pondered a moment and told her that it would probably be eating with my hands as, like her and her lady shave, I too would find it physically repulsive to have to eat without cutlery. ­­­Marianne challenged me to do it and to try to go one week as a ‘semi-caveman’, eating with my hands to see if I could experience my food and learn something new about it by being more like my ancient ancestors. At first I thought it was ridiculous but then I felt a bit ridiculous myself, snubbing something before I’d even given it a chance. I told her I was game and promised that for one week I would eat without cutlery, not knowing whether I’d be able to keep it up or end up ‘caving’ in after just a couple of days. Upon returning home, I thought that if I was making all this effort I may as well go the whole hog and also committed to her strict cavecercise routine of walking or running 9k a day; this way even if the manual munching fell flat, the experiment would not be a total waste of time as my body would thank me for dragging it outside for a bit of extra physical action.

My friends at first thought I was mad and made jibes about how I’d be condemned to a week of ‘finger food’ and asked what I’d do if faced with soup. They were, however, quite impressed by my dedication to 9k a day which got them thinking about the benefits of possibly taking on a cave routine for a short while. After just one meal I was keen to sack off the hand-eating and reach for a knife and fork however I managed to keep cutlery at arm’s length for a whole five days, determined to see if I could learn more about my food. After five days, I felt that I had given that part of the experiment a fair-enough shot, however I didn’t feel as if I was actually learning anything and so I thought it a little pointless to continue. The walking and running, however, I kept up for the full week and felt the benefits in myriad ways. Not only did I feel a bit fitter and healthier (and I found my runs, of course, easier and easier as the week went on) but I enjoyed the time that spent alone, getting away from it all and switching off for an hour or so. I started listening to radio podcasts again (not very caveman-like, I know) which I’d fallen out of the habit of and I began to notice Leiden in much more detail. I got to know the city better, noticing buildings I’d never seen before and slipping down roads that I didn’t even know existed. I snapped some of my findings which you can find below – if Leiden in all its glory doesn’t convince you to experiment with caving around for a week, then I don’t know what will:

photo 1

photo 5

photo 2


Give it a go, you might surprise yourself… I did! Also, be sure to check out Marianne’s blog at to find out more about her project and to follow her cavewoman antics as she goes about her life in Amsterdam. 🙂

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