This is the map for the trip to Melka Kunture and surrounds.
March 1 was my big day for visiting the human origins discovery site at Melka Kunture, south of Addis Ababa. Village Ethiopia sold me a little tour that featured Melka Kunture along with a visit to the stelae at Tiya and to the Adadi Mariam church.
The 4WD vehicle driver picked me up at 8:00am and we set off on the trip. I was struck again by the Ethiopian construction crews’ use of wooden scaffolding even for very tall buildings. A herd of goats brought traffic to a halt. The countryside was beautiful.
In fact, all varieties of animals block the road, including these donkeys. I’d describe the terrain as semi-desert because the trees and plants still look green and obviously get some regular water, although in some places the terrain is quite dry.
Farmers living in the tukuls in the countryside tuck their teff mounds nearby. Teff is the staple grain of most of Ethiopia and they use it to make the tasty injeera bread consumed all over the country.
The Melka Kunture human discovery site had a fancy gate, and after checking our papers, the guard let us in. The exhibits at the site are in several tukuls. They describe all the well-known human discovery sites, but Herto is not highlighted, probably because Herto happened after the scientists had set up the Melka Kunture exhibits.
Because the Melka Kunture exhibits display replicas of fossil Homo sapiens skulls along with those of precursor and related species, the site provides an excellent illustration of the human evolutionary process. I focus mainly on the Homo sapiens remains in the photos I present here, including information on the Omo, Melka Kunture, and Herto discovery sites. The fossil skull replicas shown below are: Homo sapiens skull fragements, 300,000 – 200,000 years ago, from Garba III site at Melka Kunture, Ethiopia; Homo sapiens, 90,000 years ago, from Qafzeh, Israel; Homo neanderthalenthis, 45,000 years ago, from Amud, Israel; and Homo sapiens sapiens, 15,000 – 9,000 years ago, from Border Cave, South Africa.
The exhibits display the tools found with each evolutionary ancestor or relative and the presentations on tool-making are the best I have seen, especially as far as illustrating the steps of the Levallois method. Human use of the Levallois toolmaking method represents a major step forward in human thought by being able to conceive of how a tool should appear within the materials at hand, then constructing the tool to the mind’s notion of how it should appear. I present here also the full array of Garba III tools since they represent early Homo sapiens tools.
After finishing with the tukul exhibits, the staff bring the visitor out to view a couple of the actual excavation sites. Archaeologists are not currently excavating these sites, but may return next season for further investigations.
After that Sunday (February 25) touring Addis Ababa with Paulos, I had an appointment scheduled with Dr. Berhane Asfaw at the Paleo Lab of the National Museum. Dr. Asfaw is one of my heroes because he was on the team that made the discoveries of three human remains at Herto in the Afar area of the Awash region of the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia. In fact, he discovered the skull of a child in hundreds of pieces which he painstakingly cleaned and puzzled back together — a remarkable accomplishment which brought us much light on our early origins as the species Homo sapiens. The interview went very well.
After the interview, I visited the National Museum and saw many interesting exhibits, including an excellent replica of Lucy, who was not Homo sapiens, but still an interesting gal who is back there somewhere in the early story of human origins.
For my current research, I’m focusing mainly on Homo sapiens, the species of humans alive today. The earliest Homo sapiens on record so far appear around 200,000 to 160,000 years ago. One example is this skull (replica shown below) found in Lower Omo region of the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia. I tried to go to the excavation site but the location was too remote and the bridge I would have needed to cross to get there has collapsed.
My favorite Homo sapiens remains are those discovered by Dr. Asfaw, Tim White of University of California at Berkeley, and others at Herto in the Afar area of the Awash region of the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia. They believe the remains are different enough from modern Homo sapiens sapiens to merit a separate sub-species which they dubbed Homo sapiens idaltu (replica shown below). Idaltu means “elder” in the language of the local Afar tribe in Herto village where the archaeologists discovered the remains.
The National Museum in Addis also exhibits old Ethiopian Orthodox illustrated manuscripts and modern Ethiopian art like “African Heritage” by Afewerk Tekle (1967), a painting about the Derg period in Ethiopian history, and “Three Faces of Africa” by Daniel Tohafe (1980).
In a sad comment on these times, I feel obliged to begin by declaring the “theory” of evolution in its most basic sense entirely correct, despite the fundamentalist religious zealotry preventing many of our fellow humans from learning or understanding it.
Valid debates remain over important but relatively subtle points of evolutionary theory, such as the degree to which organisms inherit behavioural as well as physical traits, the maximum speed with which evolutionary changes can occur, and the impact of individuals versus groups in the evolutionary process.
One measure of adaptivity to our environment here on this planet involves the transition from nomadic gatherer-hunter clans to city-states requiring agriculture to remain stationary and support specialized societal roles. Gatherer-hunter is more appropriate terminology than hunterer-gatherer due to the relative frquency and importance of the two activities for clan survival. Aggregation of city-states through cooperation or conquest produces nations and empires until experiments with genocidal destruction prompt species-level thought and action. Finally, potential catastrophic worldwide resource depletion lays the foundation for planetary ecosphere consciousness.
Today, humans on this planet have made it virtually impossible for any remaining gatherer-hunter societies to continue. Agricultural production is at risk from corporate monoculture methods, threatening the food supply of humans. Nations regularly wage wars at an unimaginable cost in human suffering and empires explore every avenue for exploiting natural and human resources through corporate dominance over representational governments with no regard for “externalities”.
As a species, only a minority have attained species-level thought and action and even fewer are operating with planetary ecosphere consciousness. Imperatives toward clan, nation, empire, and species loyalty will have to evolve rapidly to awareness of our perilous self-manipulated environment if we are to adapt to 21st century realities on planet earth.
The only way to avoid species suicide, dragging many other species along with us, is by learning as much as possible about the ecosphere and our effects on it. Can we navigate a trajectory that provides a basic quality of life for all of us? Is it possible to retain notions of basic human rights and justice? I believe the answer will come through increased education and communication, acts of compassion for our fellow humans and those of all species, and decisionmaking structures that push representation to individuals to the degree each decision impacts each of us.