Monday, June 30, 2014

Human Origins at the Folklife Festival

By Gary Berg-Cross

It’s early summer, just past the Solstice and the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the season near and on the Mall between 7th & 14th streets NW. This year it runs until July 6 and features the cultures of China & Kenya. . Kenya: Mambo Poa  focuses on various aspects new and ancient history of the East African country. There’s daily music & events. For runners every morning of the Festival (10:30–11 a.m.) one can meet at the Kenya House, just off the Mall and join Olympic athlete and long-distance track runner Tegla Loroupe for a jog through the National Mall.  If that doesn’t resonate there is a humanist connection to consider.  Some of the oldest artifacts of human/Homo Sapiens existence have been discovered there. Kenya is thus one of the early cradles of human kind. The festival a very nice exhibit on the mall called Searching for Human Origins in Kenya noting this

Kenya has been the epicenter of millions of years of human evolution leading up to our species, Homo sapiens. Before we came along, however, another species roamed the earth for over a million years. Homo erectus was the longest surviving species in human history, and evidence of their success can be found throughout Kenya.

I was there on the first Sunday and was really excited to see Paleoanthropologist  Rick Potts (director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution who has significant wok in Kenya AND China!).
The longest running Smithsonian excavation is in Kenya at site called Olorgesailie. Where Rick Potts and his team have worked to uncover evidence to explain how early humans in Kenya adapted and survived harsh, changing climates.  This Sunday Potts wasn’t at the museum or in Kenya.  He was  signing certificates of kids of all ages as they successfully dug into the fossil
realm as part of the exhibit. It is always wonderful to see kids interested in a science like anthropology exercising its tools and feeling the thrill of discovery and connection.

You could see a range of human origin fossils, replicas & artifacts including the recent, notable Homo erectus discovery in Kenya now widely known as “Turkana Boy.”  It’s an almost complete skeleton that dates back to about 1.6 million years.
A final nod to humanism at the event is a wall that allows visitors to past up ideas on “what makes us human.” It’s a nice thing to explore in the presence of our origins. Poets, like Christy Chiang,  have tried

What makes us human?
Is it love?
So many of us take it for granted
Yet so precious few know how to give it.
Is it hope?
So many of us fall into despair over tiny things
Yet so precious few know how to find strength in it.
Is it intelligence?
So many of us ooh and ahh over what technology can bring
Yet so precious few know how to live in harmony with nature.
Has two thousand years of civilization
Really brought nothing more than destruction?
Has it not also brought realization?
Within time, there is change.
Change for the better, bringing us back from the fringe.
There is always love,
To guide us through storms and roads that are rough.
There is always hope,
To back us while we cope
With our troubles, every day that we live
Every day that the sun rises from the heaving sea.
And though we face a heating Earth,
A dimming of our days,
With our intelligence we can fix it in a thousand small ways.
Human qualities come shining through
They almost always do.
It is the "always" that we dwell upon and have faith in,
So that a new, better age may begin.
There’s a Festival Blog to keep up on this and more.

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