There is a long record of human occupation in Kruger, stretching from the early Stone Age to the late Iron Age. To visit the Kruger Park is without a doubt a primal experience, an opportunity to open one’s senses and to tune into the deepest recesses of humanity’s collective memory; to remember that, once upon a time, long, long ago, this was our species’ birthplace.
Humankind’s earliest ancestors lived and hunted in what is today the Kruger Park. The southern lowveld between the Drakensberg escarpment and the Mozambican border has been occupied by humans for at least the last one million years. This spans the time between Homo erectus, a primitive species of Homo sapiens and modern humans – Homo sapiens sapiens.
The evolution of the human brain is mirrored by archaeological ﬁnds in the Park, showing the transition from the cruder stone tool kits of the Early and Middle Stone Ages to the more reﬁned and aesthetic tools of the Late Stone Age. Rock art and rock engravings are also to be found in Kruger.
In more recent times, northern Kruger was a crucial cog in a major subcontinental pre-colonial trading network, known as the Thulamela culture. Although Thulamela itself is a relatively late site, dating from the 13th to 17th centuries, there is evidence from Mapungubwe further up the Limpopo Valley that active trading with the coast began around 900 AD.
Arab, Indian and possibly even Chinese ships docked on the Mozambican coastline to trade for commodities from the southern African interior. These included animal skins, ivory products, gold and copper, which were sourced from South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and then channelled down the Limpopo River to the Indian Ocean.
At Thulamela Indian glass beads and Chinese porcelain have been found among the locally manufactured copper, gold and iron artifacts. Over time the untold story of Kruger’s ancient human heritage may rival the fascination visitors currently entertain for the Big Five.
Human evolution in Africa
Africa is the birthplace of humankind. Every critical event in our physical evolution occurred on this continent before our ancestors inhabited the rest of the world. Evolution is usually driven by changes in the physical environment. In this case, far-reaching climatic shifts between ﬁve and seven million years ago resulted in the destruction of the great African forests and the rapid expansion of the savannah. Most scientists believe this led to a split in the primate lineage and the emergence of the ape men. Among them were the Australopithecines, who adapted to the emergent mixed woodlands by walking on two legs and utilizing new food sources.
Of the many australopithecine species that existed between three and six million years ago, one evolved into the genus Homo, sometime between two and three million years ago. It is commonly accepted that, after two million years ago, a series of outward migrations saw Homo erectus populate the rest of the world. Since then there have been several species of Homo, leading to the appearance some 200 000 years ago of Homo sapiens sapiens, the species which embraces all people on earth today. There is strong evidence that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved ﬁrst in Africa.