Several decades ago, scientists discovered the ancient eruption of a super volcano named Toba. Hailing from the seismically active region of modern-day Indonesia, the eruption of Toba was so large that it created a huge lake, visible from space, and nearly decimated the human population. It erupted in our early human history; 74,000 years ago.
Toba threw the planet into a big chill with an ash cloud that covered much of the earth and blocked the sun’s warming rays. And it did so quickly. The effects were felt world-wide within a year. It erased more than our ancestors; it erased the traces of their existence. Who were they? How much technology, spirituality, and knowledge did they possess? How far had they traveled in the six thousand years or so that they had roamed outside of the African continent?
We may never know all the answers to these intriguing questions.
We do believe now that ancient man possessed language. He was not the grunting caveman; the Neanderthal and his successors were capable of complex speech. We know they wore more than simple skin garments; shell and bead ornaments have been found that date to roughly the age of the Toba eruption.
Some think that sea going vessels were in use 75,000 years ago. Once humans started exploring the planet, they were no different than we are today; they wanted to keep exploring, and building their knowledge of the world they inhabited.
The Wisdom Walkers takes a glimpse into the ancient lives of the last generations to live in the time prior to Toba. It follows the arduous journeys of two remarkable women as they traverse oceans and continents to meet each other. With little support from their communities, they embark with small parties, meager provisions, and tremendous faith, crossing the continent of North America and the Atlantic Ocean to arrive at the mouth of what is today known as the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
Most archeologists are quick to point out that there is no evidence of human habitation in the Americas from such a time frame. Prevailing scientific theory is of a recent migration of nomadic hunters across the Bering Land Bridge accounting for the origins of Native Americans; that they are, in geologic time, recent immigrants to the continent.
This is true for a number of tribal peoples, but not for all of them.
The Bering Strait never had a one-way sign on it. Prior to the last few hundred years, Siberia, Alaska and Canada were one and the same; great, cold lands surrounded by unforgiving oceans and towering mountains, fluctuating glaciers and sea levels, and harsh, demanding weather. Only since the discovery of the Americas by Europeans has the land been divided into countries.
It is likely that people have traveled across these icy lands in both directions many times over, and it is equally likely that they found a much easier way to travel; by sea-going vessel.
In Central and South America, where the climate is milder, archeologists continue to find evidence that throws the Bering Strait Theory into chaos; evidence such as 30,000 year old human footprints. How could this be if all native peoples trudged across the Bering Strait just ten thousand years ago?
At the Calico Early Man Site in the parched desert of California, remnants of a gathering place on an extinct lakeshore have dated at 200,000 years before present…well before our early ancestors are known to have walked out of Africa.
What would those early people have been like?
Except for the lack of sophisticated technology, they might not have been so different from us. They might have been creative, emotional, contemplative, inquisitive, and spiritual. We might have recognized them, not as primitive and thick-browed, but as our relatives.
In the sweeping adventure of The Wisdom Walkers, Mikki and Luz aren’t trudging along on their knuckles. Theirs is a journey demanding complex thought, navigational skill, and no shortage of bravery. It is a voyage that is as much about human relationships as it is about discovering the world they live in. It examines the challenges of their roles in society as well as their place in the natural world.
What we do know about the time period just before the eruption of Toba is that it was not so different than the time we live in now. The climate was mostly temperate. Ocean levels were similar to those we know today. The continents were in much the same position they currently exist in. It was a time of plenty. That changed quickly once Toba erupted.
Scientists have estimated that as few as one to three thousand people survived the aftermath of Toba, narrowing our genetic diversity to the breaking point. That mankind survived at all is somewhat of a miracle. It is one of the reasons that DNA mapping is possible; our genetic make-up, no matter the color of our skin or the country of origin, all leads back to a time in the past when our numbers were few.
While science can map our genes, finding physical evidence of our accomplishments is much more difficult. A single shell bead, a bone fragment, a wind-swept cave that gives up none of its secrets…these are the tiny clues that point to our presence in a time before history.
There is one other thing that remains; the ancient stories of indigenous peoples. In the Americas, some of these stories tell of many migrations; others tell of the time when people emerged from the belly of the earth to walk upon its surface, in the Americas. Many of these stories say that there was a time when the earth was uninhabitable. Some of them include flood stories. Others say the sky was dark and cold.
The Iroquois tell a story that the modern-day Niagara Falls did not always sit where it does today. In 2003 the great waterfall that disappeared in their legend was found. It is, indeed, much larger than today’s Niagara, and it is submerged just where they said it would be; at the bottom of a great lake.
On the northwest coast there is a legend of a whale that lived in an inland lake. Thought to be simple folklore, scientists were shocked to find the fossilized remains of a whale in that very lake.
Perhaps some day we will listen to these stories, those few that have survived the conquest of the Americas, and know them to be tales of both culture and history. Perhaps someday the epic journey of The Wisdom Walkers will be understood as one of many trans-continental and oceanic voyages that brought our ancestors to every corner of the planet, and back again, not in a single voyage of discovery, but in an ongoing quest, constantly in motion since the first time we ventured out of Africa.
(The Wisdom Walkers is 247 pages, including bibliography, footnotes and illustrations, available in paperback at www.lulu.com/corinaroberts )