JUBILEE EXCURSIONS TO EARLY HOMINID SITES *
Looking back to origins, one way or another, has been a feature of the Archaeological Society's Jubilee programmes countrywide. Members in and around Gauteng and from KwaZulu-Natal teamed up to revisit the origins of humanity itself, with excursions to renowned Australopithecine sites in the Krugersdorp and Makapansgat Valleys.
Reports in the Transvaal and Natal Branch Newsletters, Artefacts (Vol 22,1, Aug 1995) and Gnews (Vol 35, Sept 1995) give details.
KROMDRAAI (From reports by Reinoud Boers and Val Ward)
Or Francis Thackeray began the celebrations at Kromdraai with a surprise - champagne and song. Champagne to toast the Society's 50th anniversary; the song, his, a set of verses, ren dered by Professor Tony Brink, to the tune 'Oh, willow, tit-wil low' from The Mikado - which met with sustained applause:
In a cave by the Blaawbank a hominid sat Singing what'11, 0 whatwil! I do? And I said to him 'Horninid, Why do you weep, Singing what'II, 0 what'II I do?'
Then the hominid said, 'Broom has called me robustus B u t r e a l l y I ' m j u s t a n o l d H o - H o - m o - h a b i l i s F r a n c i s T h a c k e r a y , w i t h c a s t s , e x p l a i n i n g t h e S w a r t k r a n s e x c a v a t i o n . Photo: Miffy Jenner, Natal Branch.
And I look for my mate in the Kromdraai deposits Singing what' 11, 0 what'II I do?'
In the Sterkfontein caves a hominid sat Singing what'II, 0 what'II I do? And I said to him, 'Hominid, Why do you weep, Singing what'II, 0 what'II I do?'
And the hominid said, 'I've been called Mrs Pies, But frankly, my dear, I couldn't care less, And the world will all know me bipedally erect, Singing what'lI, 0 what'II I do?'
The occasion was made all the more special by the presence of Des Watkins of the Natal Branch, a founder member ofthe Society.
A box of skull casts at his side for illustration, Or Thackeray presented a history of evolu tionary work in South Africa from the time of Raymond Dart and Robert Broom. Kromdraai
was the first site at which re mains were found of robust Australopithecines (termed Paranthropus robustus - almost man - by Broom). The discover ies were made after a school boy, Gert Terblanche, in 1938, found teeth which were of in terest to Broom.
Or Thackeray's research has led him to suggest (with Maciej Henneberg) that certain speci mens which have been placed in different genera (Homo or Austra/opithecus) may instead be males or females of a single species. 'Lumpers' rather than 'splitters', they argue there may have been only one species at a time in southern Afnca during the last three million years.
SWARTKRANS (From the report by Reinoud Boers)
Next stop was Swartkrans, where the stratigraphy is ex-
tremely complicated by the way the cave collapsed over time. Significant for the number of hominid and animal fossil finds made over the years that Or Bob Brain worked there (1962-1990), Swartkrans is today perhaps most renowned for Or Brain's discovery of the earliest known controlled use of fire. Burnt bone, associated with hominid activity at 1 - 1,5 million years BP, has been exten sively investigated. Chemical analysis indicates the bone was burnt 8:t temperatures of around 600 C,whereas natural grassfires would generate heat In the region of only 200°C.
Or Thackeray said South African palaeoanthrologists hope to have a piece of th is bone lodged with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC - its significance in terms of human achievement being as great as that of the moon-walkers. Without the controlled use offire,
Vol12 (3) Nov 1995
The Digging Stick