“Was he a cold fish?” I asked.
“A cold person.”
“He was hot and cold. He was all things.”
–BC, from “Among the Ruins”
On February 1984, an Englishman with a rucksack and walking-boots strides into a bungalow in the Irene district of Pretoria. He is six feet tall, with fair hair swept over a huge forehead and staring blue eyes. He is only a step ahead of the illness that will kill him. He is 43, but he has the animation of a schoolboy.
Bruce Chatwin had come to South Africa to see the palaeontologist Bob Brain after reading his book The Hunters or the Hunted?. It was, Bruce wrote, the book he had “needed” since his schooldays, and it had reawoken themes that had been with him a long time.
“This is a detective story, but rather an odd one,” begins Brain’s classic text on early human behaviour, based on 15 years’ excavation at the Swartkrans cave near Johannesburg. Brain’s analysis of fossilised bones raised the possibility that Early Man was not a savage cannibal, as had been generally held, but the preferred prey of one of the large cats with whom he shared the open grasslands of Africa. Around 1,200,000 BC the roles were reversed when homo erectus began to outwit his predator, the dinofelis or false sabre-tooth tiger.”
by Nicholas Shakespeare