More than 40,000 Years of Learning

What is a ‘Bushman’? Is the very word demeaning, or is it a word one can take pride in? I think it is the latter, and in this book I will explain why. The theme of the book is education, and that really is a complex topic. When I lived in the Kalahari, I learned a great deal. Some of what I learned is similar to book knowledge: about botany and zoology, the seasons, time, the environment, and so on. Some was really esoteric: about kinship, religion, politics, economics – all the things that make up any human society. What struck me the most is how we are all human, and that the essence of our humanity is to be found in everything we, as humans, do.

The idea of a 40,000 year span of time is not new; it is the estimate made by an eminent Italian archaeologist. The material culture of Bushmen is very similar to what has been found archaeologically in several parts of southern Africa. Indeed, the archaeologist in question (Francesco d’Errico) reckons it is at least 44,000 years. 

Why do we study the Bushmen? Well, they are interesting. Not just that, but they have a lot to teach us. The first humans existed around 315,000 years ago. They were Africans. We know this thanks to some careful studies by archaeologists, palaeontologists, and geneticists. Some of these have been quite recent, for example a paper published in the journal Nature in 2017. If humans have been here for that length of time, what were they doing? How did they live?  Did they even have language? Did they have religion? Did they teach their young? Were they violent, or were they peaceful? These are some of the big questions, and in this book we will learn how to answer at least some of them.


ALAN BARNARD is Emeritus Professor of the Anthropology of Southern Africa at the University of Edinburgh. He lives in Scotland, where he has spent most of his life. Yet for more than forty years he has made his career in the study of the Bushmen or San and is one of the world’s experts on these peoples.

cover Bushmen.jpg

Balestier Press 


Full colour, 112 pages

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