Africa – The Cradle of Humankind

Editors Note: In our original research into postures, we found examples that took us on a world-wide exploration.  In all part of Africa, from the northeast, to the west, and to the south,  examples have been discovered, adding greater evidence to the fact that the use of postures flourished on every continent around the world.   The following article provides us with a the depth and rich prehistory of Africa and and broadens our perspective of who were the ancient ones behind the art that indicate a higher awareness and connection of the inner world. 

by Sarah Manners,  South Africa

World-renowned archaeologist Professor Phillip Tobias once said that “Humanity was a gift from Africa to the World”. Many scholars believe Africa to be the birthplace of mankind and with the substantial archaeological findings in their favor the world tends to agree.

South Africa is home to some three million years of prehistory and history, inherited from the ancient cultures which made the mountains and plains their home. This rich inheritance places the country among the few regions in the world where these footsteps towards the development of culture can be followed.

Until 1924 the world had focussed its attention on Asia in their quest for the origins of mankind. Professor Raymond Dart revolutionized this way of thinking when he discovered the skull of a six year old child in a block of rock sent to him from the town of Taung in South Africa’s North West province. The skull displayed both ape-like and human-like anatomical features and was named Australopithecus africanus. The skull is regarded amongst the 20 most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th century. Once the skull had been discovered scientists turned their attention to South Africa and a huge number of archaeological sites were found.

Another remarkable find was made in 1947 by Dr Robert Broom, who discovered a perfectly preserved adult Australopithecus africanus cranium, belonging to the 2, 5-million-year-old “Mrs Ples”, at Sterkfontein. Several hundred discoveries followed, some dating back 3, 5 million years and the Sterkfontein site earned its name – The Cradle of Humankind. Some of the cradles findings include 500 skull, jaw, teeth and skeletal fossils of early hominids, thousands of other animal fossils, over 300 fragments of fossils wood, and over 9,000 stone tools.

In more recent years South Africa has once again captured the world’s attention with the discoveries of human remains at the Klasies River Caves along the Eastern Cape coast. Human remains with anatomically modern features have been found, dating well over 100 000 years old.  If these dates are correct, then it is in Southern Africa that the world’s oldest remains of our own species, Homo sapiens, have been found – some 60 000 years before their arrival in Europe and Asia.

Apart from all of the human remains discovered in South Africa throughout the years the treasure trove of art. South Africa has the greatest collection of “Stone Age” art, sculptures, paintings and engravings in the world.

There is a significant body of rock painting in the region around Matobo National Park of Zimbabwe dating from as early as 6000 BCE to 500 CE. Significant San rock paintings exist in the Waterberg area above the Palala River and around Drakensberg in South Africa, some of which are considered to derive from the period 8000 BCE. These images are very clear and depict a variety of human and wildlife motifs, especially antelope. There appears to be a fairly continuous history of rock painting in this area; some of the art clearly dates into the 19th century. They include depictions of horses with riders, which were not introduced to the area until 1820s.

About the Bushmans Kloof rock art (pictured above)
The painting stretches across the 30-foot-wide expanse of Fallen Rock Cave, one of 130 ancient art sites on the grounds of Bushmans Kloof, in South Africa’s pristine, arid Cederberg Mountains north of Cape Town. Perhaps the cave painting is 3,000 years old. Maybe it’s 10,000. Or it could be that the shadowy figures in the background were created 5,000 years ago and the brightly colored dots and lines more recently. Archaeologists have tried to date the pictures, but they can’t do much more than guess: It’s possible to carbon-date the rock surface but not the stain left behind after the paint wears away.

The pigments themselves were concocted from a mixture of urine, blood, crushed ocher, charcoal and ostrich eggs by the nomadic San people. Also known as Bushmen, the San were hunter-gatherers who first roamed this territory–from the Atlantic coast, across South Africa to the Drakensberg Mountains in the east and up through the Kalahari Desert into Botswana–starting 20,000 years ago; they can be found in the Kalahari to this day (though they no longer live as hunter-gatherers). The San artists applied the paint with porcupine quills and plant fronds.