About 10,000 years ago a small group of hunters were seeking food for their clan around mid-day on the African savannah. Imagine their bewilderment as the sky began to turn dark and finally the sun was totally obscured. A short while later the obstruction moved and the sun was restored to its full radiance. One can only guess that fear and trepidation were far beyond any sense of wonderment.
Today, around mid-day, the totality of a solar eclipse will be experienced across a swath of the United States about seventy miles wide from Oregon to South Carolina. It has been forecast for quite some time and the event has reached unprecedented attention and celebration. Clearly this is impacting a small percentage of the Earth’s surface, but as my dear departed friend and co-founder of Martha White Foods, Joe Williams, would say, ‘The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass everyday.’
According to an article in Science magazine, in 2012, archaeologists stumbled across something disturbing in Nataruk, near Lake Turkana in Kenya: the remains of at least 27 people, unburied and exposed to the elements. Twelve were relatively complete skeletons, whereas the others were a jumble of bones. Out of those best preserved, the archaeologists could tell 10 had died violent deaths—five from blunt-force trauma to the head (pictured), and five from sharper wounds to the head and neck, likely from arrows. The hand position of a couple of the bodies suggested they had been bound when they died. The archaeologists determined that they were likely looking at evidence of warfare, in which one group of people systematically killed members of another. A massacre like this one wouldn’t be that unusual, except for one thing: The Nataruk site is really old. Based on radiocarbon dates from shells near the skeletons as well as an examination of tools from Nataruk and nearby sites—including some obsidian blades still embedded in the skeletons—the massacre occurred about 10,000 years ago, the team reports online today in Nature. This is back when people around Nataruk were still living in hunter-gatherers bands, rather than in settled communities. The problem? Many anthropologists believe that prehistoric hunter-gatherers didn’t engage in the kind of systematic warfare on display at Nataruk, because they didn’t have land or stores of food to fight over. The team proposes two explanations: Either the Nataruk people lived a more settled lifestyle than scientists thought, or organized warfare arose much earlier. The only way to know for sure, the scientists say, is to find evidence of more prehistoric massacres. Probably unrelated to an eclipse it is evident that science is now eradicating eons of mystery.
One of the lessons of this day is that darkness is a temporal effect and light is eternal.
PS Enjoy the wonder of it all and protect your eyes.