From Reader's Digest, August 1973: +quot;. . . a cave in southern Africa on the border bet

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

From Reader's Digest, August 1973: ". . . a cave in southern Africa on the border between Swaziland and Natal was inhabited by men of modern type quite possibly as long as 100,000 years ago. . . the remains unearthed in the Border Cave in southern Africa-- including the skeleton of an infant--are unmistakably those of our own species, _Homo sapiens sapiens_, who is not supposed to have appeared until around 35,000 B.C.E. Equally disconcerting are the artifacts found with the fossils. They indicate that men had developed intellects and had embarked on the road to civilization many millennia earlier than had been believed possible. The Border Cave dwellers had already learned the art of mining. They manufactured a variety of sophisticated tools, including agate knives with edges still sharp enough to slice paper. They could count and kept primitive records on fragments of bone. They also held religious convictions and believed in the afterlife, for the body of the infant had been carefully and ceremoniously buried. Obviously [sic] they spoke a well-developed language, for such abstract ideas as immortality cannot be conveyed by grunts and gestures. Inspired detective work by two prehistorians in their mid-30's, Adrian Boshier of the Museum of Man and Science and Peter Beaumont, led to the discovery at Border Cave. Back in 1964, engineers opening an iron mine on Bomvu Ridge in Swaziland had come across stone implements of curious design, and Beaumont was engaged to explore the site with Boshier. In 18 months the young researchers located ten ancient filled-in pits, some as deep as 45 feet, from which a bright-red ore called hematite had been dug. In these pits were some of the richest deposits of Stone Age relics ever uncovered, including thousands of cleavers, picks, hammers, wedges and chisels, heavily bruised from use. From archeological and geologic evidence, the earliest strata have been estimated to be 70,000 to 80,000 years old. . . Having discovered the reason for the mines, Boshier and Beaumont began to look for the miners. It was this quest that led them to start digging at Border Cave. The cave had been investigated in 1934, and scientists had found various pieces of fossilized human skull and bone there, including the infant skeleton lying in a shallow grave in a Middle Stone Age stratum. But since radiocarbon dating had not yet been developed and the bones were of modern type, they evoked little interest. The earth of the grotto had remained undisturbed for 30 years when Boshier and Beaumont plunged their trowels into it in December 1970. In 50 active days, before supplies and money ran out, they unearthed some 300,000 artifacts and charred animal bones, many of creatures long extinct. Charcoal from an overlyin ash level, more recent than the stratum in which the child's skeleton was discovered, proved to exceed the limit of radiocarbon dating, which is around 50,000 years. Thus the burial had occurred more than 50,000 years ago, but exactly how much earlier is difficult to say. Stone implements and ground ocher appear right down to bedrock, nine feet below the surface, suggesting that the cavern had been occupied for the last 100,000 years. 'Practically everything we found was three times older than the books said it should have been,' Boshier observes. The discovery of stone arrowheads places the invention of the bow more than 50,000 years ago, whereas most archeologists had previously dated its appearance in Europe at only 15,000 B.C.E. Carefully notched bones from a 35,000-year-old level, which may have been used to record the phases of the moon, indicate that man had learned to count. The atmophere of the cave is such that it has preserved perfectly layers of twigs, leaves, grass and feathers, brought in as bedding, which have been found in levels ranging beyond 50,000 years. What the evidence of the Border Cave proves, to cite Boshier and Beaumont, is that 'as early as 100,000 years ago man had developed an interest in happenings beyond the needs of survival. He had begun to question the purpose of existence and the nature of human destiny, to seek causes and fabricate explanations. This was the birth of intellect and the ascendancy of reason.'. . . It may be years before prehistorians can fully evaluate the significance of these. . . discoveries, but from the evidence it seems clear that modern man evolved on earth far earlier than has been realized and that most probably it was in the darkness of an African cave that the miracle of civilization had its genesis."


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank