Phillip Tobias Tribute
||10 June 2012 07:00
Carol Albertyn Christie
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
Phillip Tobias Tribute
Date: 10 June 2012 07:00
Producer: Carol Albertyn Christie
Show: Carte Blanche
[In studio] Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche anchor): "Before we go - a tribute to Professor Phillip Tobias, one of South Africa's leading palaeo-anthropologists, who died last week. His most famous find, with Professor Ron Clarke, was that of 'Little Foot' - the oldest, most complete skeleton of one of our direct ancestors. Here's a look at a story Carte Blanche did after that discovery back in 1995."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Phillip Tobias: "With every step we are going down this ladder, we are going back in time thousands of years."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Michelle Alexander (Carte Blanche presenter): "Thousands of years?"
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "Thousands of years. Until down here, we are over three million years."
[Carte Blanche 1995] And there before our eyes in a section dated 3.5 million years old was the spot where Little Foot had originally been buried.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Michelle: "This is the layer [on screen] where Little Foot was found. For Prof Tobias and Dr Clarke it is one of the most exciting discoveries to have been made in southern Africa in decades. This fossil not only pushes back the dating of man in these areas by half-a-million years, but it also provides startling new evidence about how man learnt to walk."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "We have for a long time been arguing about the nature of the transition from the chimpanzee-like gait to the human-like gait. Little Foot resolves that long paradox... or that long argument, or controversy... absolutely, indisputably in my opinion."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Back in his laboratory Prof Tobias demonstrated exactly what he meant.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "If one looks at a modern ape foot and a modern human foot the most striking difference between them is the gap between the big toe and the other four toes in the ape and the absence - or virtual absence - of a gap in the human. Little Foot has furnished us with exciting new information that, while the ankle end of the foot was very like that of a modern human - here's a modern human foot, and there is the ankle... And so it is very, very similar at that end. But as one travels out along the instep of the foot towards the big toe, it becomes more and more chimpanzoid... more like a chimp."
[Carte Blanche 1995] For Prof Tobias, the discovery of Little Foot by his research unit is another rewarding moment in a rewarding career.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "You can see exactly where..."
[Carte Blanche 1995] He has been showered with awards in recognition of his achievements in the fields of anthropology, archaeology and cytogenetics. He is acknowledged as one of the world's foremost authorities on the evolution of man.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Michelle: "To you personally - what significance does this have?"
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "It's tremendously exciting and it is a rejuvenating experience in the evening of my career. I am very thrilled and very excited. If I was a schoolboy I couldn't be more excited and more enthusiastic. And I'm thrilled that a man with the astonishing eyesight and skill in anatomy of a Ronald Clarke could have spotted this little ankle bone, which led to all the other spottings of the following days. It is very, very exciting and we look forward to very important new finds. As you can see, Member 2 is still full of bones."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Michelle: "So, professor, do you think there are more exciting finds to come out of here?"
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "I don't think it me dear, I am convinced."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Michelle: "Sterkfontein Cave is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. It is almost 60 years since the first signs of man were discovered here by Robert Broom. Since then, about 600 ape-man fossils have been found in this case and perhaps the most famous of them is Mrs Ples, discovered in 1947."
[Carte Blanche 1995] This excavation site has been Prof Tobias' stamping ground ever since he decided not to become a medical doctor, but to pursue paleoanthropology. Under his supervision, a wealth of discoveries have been uncovered here. In fact, a very large percentage of all the world's evidence about the evolution of man stems from South Africa.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "Well, it all started here in 19... 70 years ago! It is exactly 70 years since Raymond Dart announced to the world the discovery of the first ape-man skull from Taung - north of Kimberley. And... but from this area of Gauteng, we have I think something like 40% of all the world's fossil evidence on the origins of the human family and of mankind."
[Carte Blanche 1995] This level [on screen], known as Member 4, has revealed exciting information about our ancestors. We've been able to study the differences between males and females, adults and children, as well as the climate of that period. We now know that Gauteng was once a humid and tropical jungle. Just about this is Member 5, which presented another mystery. It was full of Stone Age tools, but no-one knew who had made them.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "For 20 years we weren't sure who was the maker of the Sterkfontein stone tools. From 1956 to '76 it was a kind of who-done-it. And then in '76, in that pit just below, Adam Hughes discovered the first South African specimen of a homo habilis skull and since that time more specimens have come to light, suggesting that in Member 5 we no longer had Australopithecus africanus - the ape-man of Member 4. He's gone, but not forgotten because his genes, his heritage has, we believe, been passed on to the next big phase of human evolution; the phase represented by homo habilis."
[Carte Blanche 1995] Professor Tobias believes that since South Africa is so rich in ancient history, the time is right for launching a new type of tourism: archeo-tourism. Certainly, the discovery of Little Foot - which is a brand new link in the story of man's evolution, has focused the world's attention on us once again.
[Carte Blanche 1995] Prof Tobias: "Gradually, I think we're going to reveal a story which is... which started in South Africa with Dart's discovery of 70 years ago, which has spread up and down the continent. And, I believe, South Africa's contribution through these wonderfully preserved cave deposits is the richest single contribution to the whole story. It provides links which are indispensable in interpreting where we came from, when we arrived and how we walked onto the scene."
[On screen] Phillip Tobias, 1925-2012
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.