East of Eden

Darling daughter was on the phone on Friday full of plans for her first weekend proper in Cape Town, briefly a Cajun supper that evening prepared by one of the American girls at the hostel, a winery trip on Saturday and a visit to Robben Island today.

I reminded her of all the things that boring old dad would do given the chance, like having my photo taken at the spot where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean etc.

Also this thing I half-caught on the telly a while back about this place on the coast that was the cradle of humankind, somewhere near Mossel Bay. Blow me if there wasn’t an article about it in the Sunday Times today.

The programme I saw showed the guide just picking up the remnants of stone tools and a clam bake and I knew that this had happened quite a long time ago, tens of thousands of years for sure, but I hadn’t appreciated just how long — as much as 170,000 years.

That’s a really big number, hard to comprehend. It’s enough time to walk to the sun and back again. And do a lap of honour. Or earn £2 billion on the minimum wage (at 40 hours a week, no weekend working, and six weeks a year holiday). Or if you scratched the days off by fives IIII like in prison and each block was an inch wide, you’d need more than a million feet of wall space.

I’m not sure that any of that helps, so let’s just agree that it was a bloody long time ago when the future of Homo sapiens hung in the balance. A 70,000 year long ice age made most of Africa uninhabitable through cold and drought and their [our?] numbers dwindled to perhaps a few hundred. But at Pinnacle Point, the survivors found an Eden of rich vegetation, seafood aplenty and the shelter of the caves to thrive.

The theory goes that Homo sapiens were on the edge of extinction and that the small genetic variations in humans compared with other species which indicates that we all descend from the same small group of survivors. Other academics think there was more than one Pinnacle Point, possibly in Ethiopia and Morocco. No matter, we’re still bloody lucky to be here.

Meanwhile, on the front page of the same paper there was another article about the NASA deep space camera and how it has identified more than 700 suspected new planets, including 140 similar in size to Earth. I suppose the point of this is of the ‘we are not alone’ variety.

But you have to wonder why. Assuming we do find another Earth that might sustain life that has managed to avoid falling off the evolutionary mountain as ours did, then what? Setting aside all the technical problems of actually getting there to have a conversation, at what point in their 170,000 year history will we find them?

Still, as the Romans would say: Respice, adspice, prospice. Not to mention Sporty Spice, Scary Spice and Old Spice.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

2 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 27th July 2010

    Sorry mate but I think you are losing it! How the hell could you walk to The Sun? For one thing there’s no walkway and for another thing, when you reached somewhere around Mercury you’d surely frazzle so there’s no way you’d actually get to The Sun. I bet your mother had a hell of a time with you when you were a young lad – calling you back from your little fantasy worlds…. “So what have you been up to Polly?”
    “I walked to The Sun and back>”
    “Oh yeah! Now eat your tripe!”

  • Polly 27th July 2010

    If you can live to be 170,000 years old, you can do anything. Even learn to like tripe.


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