Editor's note: The Makapansgat pebble, or the pebble of many faces, is a jasperite chunk naturally chipped, resembling a crude construct of a human face. It was found in a dolerite cave in Limpopo, South Africa, in 1925, far away from any possible natural source. It's considered possible that the australopithecine recognized the symbolic face and thus saved the piece, carrying it back to their camp and treasuring it among their rudimentary possessions. If true, this would mark the earliest known example of symbolic thinking.
The Makapansgat Pebble of Many Faces
Two eyes hollowed out like someone
who has seen too much, drawn
cheeks and a mouth that might scream.
She looks like a toothless old woman still
gathering herself every morning to lift
eggs out of the nests, pull grasses off the plains,
bathe in the light. Or he looks like the king deposed,
the ape defeated, still certain
that his chin juts out. He is the child
we tried to leave behind and couldn't.
We carried him quivering to this cave.
We came upright on slender legs
through the late Pliocene. Our brains almost
the same as your brains. We did not chisel out
these jasperite faces, but art, we found,
we carried with us.
Deborah Bacharach is the author of After I Stop Lying (Cherry Grove Collections, 2015). Her work has appeared in Literary Mama, The Antigonish Review, The Southampton Review, and the Inquisitive Eater amony many others. Find out more about her at DeborahBacharach.com.
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