What started as an engaging way for Stephanie Black, a PhD candidate in Archeology at Durham University, to share how similar we are to our ancestors quickly escaped the confines of academia TikTok and became the preeminent trend on the platform this week — so popular that even Drew Barrymore participated.
Informally known as the ancestor trend, in these videos creators don makeshift costumes and conduct imaginary conversations with their ancestors through their captions about how their lives have and haven’t changed with the passage of time. All the videos are soundtracked by a pitched up edit of “Pierre” by Ryn Weaver, a sound that’s been used in over 29,000 videos. For example @zaytchik.bunny(Opens in a new tab) posted a video of herself dressed as a modern girl, a girl in 1930, and a 15th century peasant girl all eating soup on a winter’s night to feel better. In another video @_happy_dagger_(Opens in a new tab) has a conversation with a 500 BC woman bonding over writing sapphic poetry.
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Some of these videos see creators earnestly connect with their culture and traditional practices. In one video @psitsvvic(Opens in a new tab) chats with a Chinese woman 1,200 years ago about hair sticks. In another @dontgotaclueintheworld(Opens in a new tab) connects with her foremother over staining her nails with henna. Additionally, many of the videos are created by members of historically marginalized communities talking to their predecessors about the progress that has and has not been made — a common response from the creator’s ancestor is “we can do that now?” Other uses of the trend aren’t quite as heartfelt, and instead poke fun at the absurdity of modernity.
Black is part of a niche on TikTok where historians, archeologists, and medievalists try to make their fields accessible to the average viewer. She often posts about archeological discoveries or papers that she finds particularly interesting. It was after reading about Neanderthals on the coast of what is now Portugal harvesting crabs that she was inspired to post the video that accidentally started the trend. “I thought it would be cool if I could do someone ‘talking’ in the modern day to one of the Neanderthals to show how we’re connected because you can read this academic article and about the statistical analysis they did…but it’s not necessarily accessible to other people,” Black explained to Mashable. “I wanted to be like we eat crabs and if you stuck us with the Neanderthals roasting crabs in that cave 90,000 years ago we couldn’t talk to them, we are completely different, but we could have sat there and eaten crabs with them.”
Black posted the trend-starting TikTok on Feb. 9.
Credit: TikTok / archthot
She knows that the TikTok algorithm prioritizes her comedic videos that use a trending audio, so when she set out to make the crab video(Opens in a new tab) she chose “Pierre” due to its change it pitch that allows for a seamless transition between herself and the Neanderthal. She made many follow up videos ranging from fast food in ancient Rom(Opens in a new tab)e to weaving in ancient Egypt(Opens in a new tab). Her format swiftly took off among TikTok historians with @historical_han_(Opens in a new tab) posting a series of videos that reflected how skincare and make-up practices have evolved from ancient times and soon after it went mainstream.
“History can be quite abstract and in these videos the TikTok community is making these people real,” explained Black. “People realizing they have a connection to the past is really beautiful and I love how everyone’s done it in their own unique ways.”