Little did I know at that time that the few weeks I did spend in her classroom contributed an inner hunger that ultimately led me to add another item to my bucket list ..... visiting the Cradle of Humankind at Sterkfontein Caves just northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. I actually traveled half way around the world to the place where the skull of Mrs. Plez, Australopithecus Africanus, had been found. Mrs. Plez was one of the early hominids (estimated age is 2.6 million years), whos cranial capacity (485 cc) had driven me to distraction in my anthropology class.
And so it was, many years later, that we found ourselves winging our way to Africa. We spent weeks travelling through six countries in southern Africa and had another one of those experiences that we will never forget. We began our African oddysey at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We journeyed through Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozabmbique, Swaziland and ended up in South Africa. There we stayed for a few days in Johannesburg. Two of what will probably be some of the most memorable events in my life happened on successive days. On November 5, 2008, Barack Obama was elected President. The next day we visited Sterkfontein Caves.
Don't we all wonder where we came from? How did we get here? Who were our ancestors? What were their lives like?
I've spent many hours talking with friends about their ancestries. These conversations usually focus on their parents' lineage; when and from where did their ancestors migrate to the United States? True to the question I asked my anthropolgy professor, I have never had any of those conversations end up in a discussion about whether humankind descended from Mrs. Plez.
Still, it is something I have often found myself thinking about. I have always been a spiritual person. I don't want to confuse "spiritual" with "religious". Religion is an element of spirituality, and I have read most of the texts - the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Tipitaka. All have perspectives on the origins of the human race. My ongoing curiosity and desire to learn drove me to Sterkfontein. I am reasonably convinced that my ancestors wandered around that area at some point in time. I just can't find the book that they wrote to tell me that.
And so there I was staring at the achaelogical site that produced Mrs. Plez. It was a moving time for me - thinking about all that had transpired between the time Mrs. Plez and her family had wandered around the very spot where I now stood until today. It also made me wonder what others thousands or millions of years hence will think about us.
Thoughts about other places I had traveled played into the entire scenario (see my post, "Guns, Germs and Steel").
Although, as with most of the other places I have traveled, I would love to return to the area around Johannesburg, I think I can check the cradle of humankind off my list. There are so many places to go and so little time available to go there.