The Connection, or ‘Holding Minds’
An ancestor of modern humans, living some 600,000 thousand years ago, a member of Homo heidelbergensis, made a refined hand-axe one day out of a piece of local flint, near what is today Happisburgh on the coast of Norfolk in the UK. More recently, this piece of worked flint was found there by Robert Ferguson, a director of the charity ‘Explorers Against Extinction’. The flint was registered with the British museum and allowed for use in this artwork.
We all carry traces of Homo heidelbergensis DNA in our bodies. They were our kin, but became extinct some 280,000 years ago – very recent in the time-line of life on Earth. It was climate change that caused their demise, a great freeze.
They were shorter than us, with a more pronounced brow ridge. They wore stitched skins. They hunted. They worked stone. And we, Homo sapiens, would have communicated with them. But extinction found them….
It’s a profound feeling of connection, poetic, tenuous. A thread through time. There’s a terrible pathos here.
In the minds eye, I think of him, her, an ancient relative of mine, working the flint, chipping and knocking with a skill that was learned over generations, making a super-sharp knife edge for scraping meat from a bone, or slicing open the skin of an animal.
To hold the flint in ones hand is to feel the thumb settle comfortably into place, the fingers wrap nicely around the body, allowing a perfect grip.
It’s called the first technology, this working of stone, and described as an industry.
Time passes and the future is unknowable, but this one stone from them, from then, is here in our hands, telling us something of who they were, all those hundreds of thousands of years ago. Stone endures. Worked stone carries information of intention and care. It can bear the past into the future really well.
The knapped hand-axe shows a way of working with stone that has passed down the millions of years. (The earliest found worked stones are three hundred and thirty million years old, found near lake Turkana in what is now Kenya). It manifests the relationship to my way of working stone now – to my hand striking pieces of stone from a mother piece, to make something that also carries intention and care.
Some of the stones I work with are many billions of years old, and could well endure again for many more. The heads I carve from stone show the thought and intention of one contemporary woman; my feelings as a member of the vast troupe of Homo sapiens on Earth today. I am enmeshed in strong notions and impulses towards compassion: compassion for the sufferings of the billions of life forms on Earth by our own hands: the lives of so many kinds lost, the deaths continuing, endless, countless, the huge crisis of life and death on Earth….this stone Earth.
So the look on the faces carries the intention towards, and the belief in, compassion. Though we too may not endure long into the future, the stone heads I make now, carved and polished by hand, stand solidly as witnesses to the love, the beauty, the loss and the fear we know through the gift of life. Perhaps they are also a way to grieve for and honour the victims of our terrible lack of competence. I feel I am a servant of the planet. Of its well being, and therefore ours.
Perhaps with a longer view, the human project can shift its bias away from destruction.
This piece, ‘The Connection’ – ‘Holding Minds’ is a manifestation of human consciousness, embodied in stone, and stands a good chance of existing far beyond the time of the Anthropocene into the unknowable future.
Emily Young, Santa Croce, March 2023