Video: The Landscape of Human Evolution

The newly discovered hominid fossils emerging this week from deep in a South African cave have been there for a long time.

Whatever species they belong to, some of their relatives (maybe direct descendants, maybe very distant relatives) went on to fill new niches as slowly the population filled with taller, larger-brained individuals. Still these bones lay somewhere nearby.

Our cultures and civilizations have risen and fallen and moved and changed, and there, 30 meters below the surface, these bones lay in a dark, nearly inaccessible cave.

Throughout it all, the land itself has both changed in ways and stayed the same in others. The rocks are largely the same. The plants might be mostly unrecognizable. Hominids still live nearby. For the time being, our expedition team is a good number of them.

With more than 30 people camped at the base of the hill containing the caves, more people live here now than perhaps at any other time.

It’s a beautiful landscape. And it has many stories to tell.


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Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Nancy Eckel


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