Archaeologists have found the oldest home in hominin history. Unsurprisingly, it is a cave: Wonderwerk Cave in the Kalahari Desert.
Astonishingly, it has been occupied more or less continuously for two million years. Through most of that time, modern humans didn’t even exist.
In Wonderwerk Cave, archaeologists have found evidence that archaic humans lived inside the cave around 2 million years ago, the earliest-ever use of fire at a million years and earliest hand axes at over a million years, report Ron Shaar, Ari Matmon, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Yael Ebert and Michael Chazan.
Two million years ago, our ancestors were still small-brained but were definitely bipedal. We don’t know when our ancestors left the trees and began to stride the Earth upright, but we seem to have begun to trade arborealism for bipedalism during our australopithecine phase. That began about 4 million years ago. The point at which we discovered the virtues of shelter is even murkier.
In fact, the purpose of the latest team, led by the geologists Shaar and Matmon, had been to validate the postulated 2-million-year-old timeline of the cave, and now that’s been done.
That said, it isn’t actually 100 percent clear which archaic humans lived in that cave. Not one smidgen of a single human bone, not one single tooth, has ever been found there in the near-century of the cave’s excavation, Horwitz tells Haaretz.
For all the recent discoveries regarding human evolution, much of our truly ancient history remains shrouded in murk.
There were myriad types of archaic hominin in Africa and later in Eurasia as well; there seems to have been a lot of mixing; and we don’t know who our direct ancestors were, though we can make learned guesses.
We recently learned that the early australopiths living 3.6 million years ago had human-like feet on which they could stride.
We also know they did walk upright, as we find from fossil trails. But they also had ape-like shoulders, indicating they had not abandoned the arboreal way of life; they could theoretically swing branch to branch, and australopithecine kiddies may even have retained primitive foot structure until maturity, enabling them to escape ground-bound predators by lurking in trees.