Columns 14.7.2017 05:30 am

Cradle of Humankind: Mrs Ples had the best life…

A newly found example of a Homo Naledi skeleton named Neo during a media event held at Maropeng, 9 May 2017  to announce more findings from the Rising Star cave system in which Homo Naledi was found a year and a half ago. The age of Homo naledi has been determined to be in the vicinity of 335 000-236000 years old, meaning that it is likely they roamed the earth in the vicinity of Homo Sapiens demonstrating for the first time that another species lived alongside the first humans in Africa. Picture: Neil McCartney

A newly found example of a Homo Naledi skeleton named Neo during a media event held at Maropeng, 9 May 2017 to announce more findings from the Rising Star cave system in which Homo Naledi was found a year and a half ago. The age of Homo naledi has been determined to be in the vicinity of 335 000-236000 years old, meaning that it is likely they roamed the earth in the vicinity of Homo Sapiens demonstrating for the first time that another species lived alongside the first humans in Africa. Picture: Neil McCartney

While the rest of my family were debating how hard life must have been back then, I somehow pictured it very differently.

I visited Maropeng and the Sterkfontein caves in the Cradle of Humankind for the first time recently. What an amazing experience. Looking at Mrs Ples and Little Foot, I could just picture our early ancestors, not yet human, roaming the beautiful grassy hills of Kromdraai.

The whole Cradle seems to me to be the perfect area for early man to lay the foundations of humankind. The numerous caves are the ideal shelter for “people” who haven’t yet conceived of the idea of erecting buildings. Because of the huge inland sea in the area, it must have been rich in marine life, as well as land animals – a natural bread basket.

While the rest of my family were debating how hard life must have been back then, I somehow pictured it very differently.

Yes, there must have been constant anxiety regarding the day’s food. Together with the inability to understand disease and the fear of predators, they surely did not live in a utopia. But looking beyond the daily grind, I can picture a contented and peaceful community.

When the men went fishing, it wasn’t a rat race to see who could get to the water first. The sick or injured could stay home knowing they would get their share of the food. And the worst hunter of the lot never had to fear being retrenched – redeployed maybe, but never retrenched. Their survival depended on teamwork. Imagine that today. The thought of team-building exercises makes most people cringe.

The children weren’t subjected to exams. There were no prizegivings and no report cards. They didn’t have to compete. What a social life they all must have had – living together as one group in a cave without the division of walls and fences.

They showed compassion, evidenced by their burying of the dead. We also know they were a curious lot. Wondering what lay beyond the Magaliesberg, drove them to explore.

Very much like us today, wondering what lies at the other end of the universe. Life three species ago was very different and very much the same.

I can’t help wondering if they had beggars or if their elderly also knew loneliness intimately.

Mankind really has come a long way.

Danie Toerien

Danie Toerien

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