Nearly 2 million years ago, an adult and a child walking through the South African landscape somehow fell through openings in a partly eroded, underground cave and died. Today, that fatal plunge has led to their identification as representatives of a new hominid species — and a contentious debate among paleoanthropologists over the pair’s evolutionary relationship to modern humans.The one thing that separates us from other centuries and societies is we live with deep space (both outward and inward) and deep time (both past and future) all around our tiny island of the now. Great amounts of time are becoming less and less strange. The otherness of deep time is fast dissolving. The six million years it took us to evolve from a common ancestor with banobos and chimps is now just a blimp, a blink of time in our mind's ever-growing understanding of the history of the sun, the slow formation of its planets, and the emergence of life on one of those planets. Indeed, the time it took for the organic to emerge from the inorganic, a window of 300 million years, is considered to be short.
It's no longer that difficult for us to accommodate the fact that a hominid 2 million years ago lived for just 12 years—barely a flicker of life; barely a boy who saw a few moons, a few bright stars, a few clouds, and nothing more. He fell into a cave and died with his mother.