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HERITAGE and society
Given the antiquity of human occupation in southern Africa, and its vast ecological and geographic diversity, the region is a rich repository for the discovery of pathogenic drivers of human mortality.
There is no better place in the world than right here in South Africa to explore the origins of our species. South African caves and rock-shelters have long been favoured sites of human habitation and, from 165 000 years ago, these bear testament to the origins of technological and behavioural traits reminiscent of modern humans. Archaeologists have generally focused on macro-material-cultural remains, such as stone tools, skeletal remains and ancient art, in formulating explanations concerning the past. But what about that which we cannot
perceive with the naked eye? The microbes, molecules and ancient DNA?
While much is known about the evolution of human technological and symbolic capacity, the impact
that diseases have had on the biological and social evolution of our species is a largely overlooked aspect of our developmental history. It is widely stated
that diseases have impacted human populations throughout history. But the biological origins of many prehistoric, historical and even modern-day diseases, remain enigmatic. Moreover, precisely which pathogens were brought from Africa to the rest of the world, after our ancestors left the continent some 65 000 years ago, is also ambiguous. The analyses of ancient skeletal remains have provided insights into the incidence of certain diseases in the
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