Hoof marks in stone

While walking to Sedgefield, I came upon some hoof prince etched in the sandstone. They looked like small zebra prints. The prints were reasonably clear in there definition even though they were quite pitted from the erosion caused by the sea at high tide. I have periodically noted similar tracks all the way from Hermanus. Mostly the prints have been in such a state of erosion, that thy fail to show up clearly on camera.

Further on, I noticed a set of 5 indistinct figure eight tracks in the stone. They were badly eroded and could not be clearly defined. The thing that struck me was the uniformity. I have spent a great many years outdoors, and learnt to follow spoor in my youth. Often it is not the clarity of the spoor but rather the context in which they are found. Uniformity, the fact that they don’t belong in their surroundings. They looked like old human tracks that had been washed out by countless rains, just the toe and heel depressions puddling. When I measured them, they would have matched a very small stride. Had I been in the veld, I would have assumed a child had passed through months before, but this was sandstone. Again the prints would not show on camera, It was more the perception based on experience and gut feel. The tides would eventually erode them as they lay under the high tide mark.

Further on I came upon some more tracks etched in stone. These looked like hartebeest tracks and they were distinct, clear and high and dry. These I could get on camera. As my mind continued to drift, I started to ponder. How old would they be, how did they get there, what would the landscape have looked like then. My mind wondered back to the people of yesteryear. Where did we come from, what hardships did they face, how long did there journeys take them.

It turns out that only about 5 sets of human tracks are known to exist in Africa. It also takes a very unique set of circumstances to allow the preservation of tracks in stone. You would need a wet muddy substrate high in silica that would take the impression. This would then needed to have been covered over before the impressions were blown out and obliterated by the elements. The covering layer would need to be high in calcium, and you would need a lot of light leaching for the dissolved calcium to cement the track together. Thousands and thousands of years later you would need enough erosion to expose the tracks again.

South Africa sea levels have risen and fallen many times, for much of Sapiens history our coast was at least 180km further out to sea, esp2cially around the L’agulhas shelf. The interior of south Africa was a desert and only the narrow coastal strip of fynbos between the mountain and sea was inhabitable. It stands to reason that many of our fossil remains are buried under the Oceania. They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, the same can be said of evolution . As the climate and environment change, all living things must evolve, adapt or die.

The popular theory is that first we were monkeys and then we slowly became more upright, started to walk on two legs, got bigger brains learnt to master fire and use tools and hey presto now we are driving cars and swearing at each other in rush hour traffic while our governments threaten each other with a nuclear hammer. At least that’s what I was taught at school.

It turns out evolution is not so easy and is definitely not so linear. It is more like a big messy bush with lots of branches, some terminating, others branching again and again. Some scientists now consider that there could have been up to 20 different types of early human, some coexisting only to die out or evolve again.

We now no that H. Neanderthal and H. Sapien once lived along side one another and even interbreed in Europe, as evidenced by tracing the mt DNA transferred along the female line. Then Neanderthal did a wheels up and disappeared…..although looking at some of my relatives….just saying!. South Africa once had up to 6 types of hartebeest, sabre-tooth cats, giant buffalo and giant baboon to name a few. Did we just get smarter then our other relatives, did we flatten the competition or even turn them into lunch?.

Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and homo in there various forms were quite successful. Some of them existing for more than a million years, then as they did not adapt fast enough, or due to some other catastrophe, they all did a wheels up. All accept Homo sapien, aka us. Now we are a pretty arrogant bunch considering that we have only been around for a couple of hundred thousand years. We continually pat ourselves on the back and brag how we are the smartest species on earth, the winners in the evolutionary race. See how we have gone on to populate the earth, the entire planet is now our resource, we control it all.

We seem to forget that evolution continues, the planet doesn’t care if we are here or not. If we continue to destroy our resources and pollute our environment, we might just evolve ourselves out the equation. With our penchant for war, our disregard for all other life and our nuclear technology. We could destroy the entire planet. We may be the thickest, most short lived “success” of all our ancestors.

Apes monkeys, or baboons may very well inherit the planet, thereby becoming more successful than us……….if there is anything left.

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