Historians and archaeologists believed that Stone Age activities never occurred anywhere in West Africa thus making excavations and archeologically activities concentrated in East Africa. However, in 1965, an English archaeologist, Prof Thurstan Shaw of blessed memory, with his team, invaded the thick forest of Isarun, a sleepy village in Ondo State, about 20 kilometres to Akure and five kilometres to Igbara Oke worked rigorously and excavated bones of Stone Age man in a cave, which invalidated the hitherto held claims and views. Shaw’s findings revealed that skulls and bones of human beings found there were subjected to radiocarbon dating instruments pointed out that Stone Age activities actually took place in this forest some 13,000 years ago.
Other researchers have actually worked on his findings and the site with by concluding that Iwo Eleru Cave was inhabited before 13,000 years ago. An international team of scientists studied human skeletal remains from Iwo Eleru in Nigeria, West Africa, which was unearthed in 1965.
The team was led by Prof Katerina Harvati of the University of Tubingen, Germany and Professor Chris Stringer, human origins expert at the Natural History Museum, and author of the new book; The Origin of Our Species. The skeleton was confirmed to be about 13,000 years old. However, the skull did not look like one from a recent human, particularly those living in West Africa today. Instead, it shared many similarities with African fossil skulls that date to more than 100,000 years ago.”
Thus on Friday 8 August, 2014, Tribune Tourism Magazine (TTM) ventured into the forest and had a feel of the historical Iwo Eleru cave in Isarun. Isarun is located along Ilesa-Akure Road having Igbara Oke as its neighbour when heading towards Akure. There are many signposts and billboards erected at the junction to show the existence of a town that is a few metres off the main road. However, Isarun is sleepy, cool and peaceful; the town is not like others as it is a testimony to the evolution and metamorphosis of human kind particularly in West Africa sub region. The people of Isarun are hospitable and conscious of the essence of the town in sociological and morphological metamorphosis of life and living in West Africa.
“You are welcome to the first inhabited colony in West Africa. This is the first place ever lived by human in Nigeria. This is the place established by research and confirmed by tradition to have been occupied during the Dark Age, I mean Stone Age. Yes, this is the town,” Oba, a popular okada operator who guided TTM to Isarun Cave confirmed. “But you cannot venture into the have; you must first get to the king’s palace,” added Oba.
At the King’s Palace
The Onisarun of Isarun, Oba Joseph Akinbobola who was delighted seeing the TTM expressed his disappointment at the seemingly nonchalant posture of the government to Isarun. “This is the first place to have been inhabited by humans in West Africa. It is supported by both traditional evidence and scientific information and analysis. “Traditionally, this place is called Isarun Ile-Owuro, (Isarun the early land). This has even before Thurstan Shaw came here in 1965. Our ancestors told us and gave us evidences, which were handed over to them by their own great progenitors. “To cap this, was the archaeological adventure of Thurstan Shaw who flew here with a helicopter and dug up remains of Stone Age people and their articles of work then.
“All the various analyses and tests of what he found confirmed that Iwo Eleru, Isarun is the only place in West Africa with uncontroverted evidence of human habitation at the Stone Age. “I just wonder why the Federal Government or UNESCO has not deemed it fit to turn this cave into a world centre of research and tourism wonder.” Oba Akinbobola who gave a briefing of the various migratory trends of Isarun people lamented “You could have come here during the dry season. The road to the cave is bad. However, you will venture in and out there without any hitch.” Hence, he directed three okada operators to take us to the cave. “Go in peace and see with your own eyes where the Stone Age people lived and how they lived and you can come back for other clarifications.”
As we left the palace, I was told to hop on the motorcycle, which I resisted arguing that I brought a car. “Oga, your car cannot get there. The road is bad or I can say there is no road at all. You can get to Agiri Village, but getting to the cave is a fleeting daydream.” After a proper negotiation, the leader of the team agreed to N3, 000. “We are collecting just three thousand naira from you because of kabiyesi who directed us to lead you.” So, if Kabiyesi had not intervened, you would have charged more?,” I asked. The fee is not too much compared to the state of the road and the fact that it is rainy season. But you too would sympathise and even compensate us by the time we come back.” As we journeyed to Agiri village, I needed no one to tell me the wisdom in hopping on a motorcycle. I realised why the okada operators’ charge so high.
“You can see what I was saying ‘Sir’. This road, which you are complaining about, is even better as we are going to pass through a rugged bush path to the cave. If you think Agiri Village is far from civilization, bereft of life worthy of facilities, you will be pleasantly surprised that the village almost has all in terms of school, electricity, clinic and others. All planted by the state Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko. As we drove passed Agiri village, the cyclists who have mastered the terrain carefully meandered through blossoming cocoa trees, shrubs, undergrowth, and climbers for almost three kilometres before halting at the foot of a rock which has its surrounding littered by prosperous cocoa trees with beautiful matured pods hanging on them all. “Welcome to the only arena where Stone Age men lived and their bones interred,” said Idowu Adewumi, a farmer whose late father, a hunter, accompanied late Professor Shaw to the cave in 1965.
Mr Adewumi revealed what his father told him were the findings at the cave “My father said Professor Shaw was very happy and excited when the first set of bones were excavated. According to my father, the late Prof told them that the town was a special and unique one having been the only place where stone age activities were carried out in West Africa probably, the cradle of mankind. To him, it was the greatest achievement of his life.” This stance is supported by the findings of scholars who worked on the skeletal properties found in Iwo Eleru according to an article “ Mystery of a West African skull from 13,000 years ago “ published by Natural History Museum. Humans with primitive skull features were still living in West Africa 13,000 years ago, much more recently than expected, according to scientists reporting in the PLoS One journal today, An international team of scientists studied human skeletal remains from Iwo Eleru in Nigeria, West Africa, which was unearthed in 1965.
The team was led by Prof Katerina Harvati of the University of Tubingen, Germany and Professor Chris Stringer, human origins expert at the Natural History Museum, and author of the new book The Origin of Our Species. The skeleton was confirmed as dating to about 13,000 years ago. However, the skull did not look like one from a recent human, particularly those living in West Africa today. Instead, it shared many similarities with African fossil skulls that date to more than 100,000 years ago.
Stringer said that this suggests that fully modern humans in Africa overlapped with more archaic forms during the last 200,000 years (modern humans, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago).” “We climed the hill and got to the cave where the skull was unearthed. “It is a rock shelter, which has a small opening as the entrance. Ashes like white sand, which Adewumi claimed were the ashes of the Stone Age people, covered the entrance of the cave. The ashes like sand are protected naturally from rain and other elements by an outcrop of the big rock which served as an umbrella over the ashes arena. On the wall of the rock is a white lettering, which Adewumi said, was to mark the spot where the skeletons of the Stone Age humans were excavated.
On the right of the cave stands the ruins of an old wall or building where we found a piece of broken earthenware, which is thicker than the modern day’s made. The broken pot we saw at the site confirmed what Thurstan Shaw and S.G.H Daniels published in West Africa Journal of Archaeology, “Excavation at Iwo Eleru, Ondo State, Nigeria 1984. It has frequently been stated that the West African forest could not have been exploited and occupied by human beings without the use of metal tools. Excavations carried out in 1965 at the rock shelter of Iwo Eleru in Nigeria’s Ondo State threw light on this question. A prolific late Stone Age industry was found, beginning around 10,000 BC and extending to1500 BC. Whether the site was in evergreen forest at the earlier date is discussed, but it certainly was at the later date.
A detailed classification of the lithic industry and of the pottery was made. There were no sudden breaks over time. The entrance to the cave looks smaller as if it is a passage or a split part of the rock. A peep into the cave revealed a dark hollow tunnel, but with the aid of an handset with full light, we entered the cave which we found out to our surprise can accommodate more than 30 people. ‘This is where the Stone Age people lived in those days,” said Adewumi. A close observation of the cave revealed that though the Stone Age people might be primitive, yet they lived in an organised setting. The cave seemed to be sound proof as we never realised that it was raining outside until we exited through the rear opening. With the rains falling, we rushed back into the cave, a situation that allowed several discussions on the fate of the historical cave, the town and Nigeria.
According to Adewumi “If not for the rain, you could have been able to climb to the rock top to see evidences of the activities of these Stone Age people.” Asking him what happened to other evidences found in the cave. Adewumi said “I cannot give a reasonable response to that. You can extract that information from the king.” With excitement and enthusiasm, Oba Akinbobola welcome the team back to his palace “The Tribune, hope you were able to get what I told you?” “Quite revealing, brazen in its historical significance and fascinating in its touristic contents and attraction,” TTM responded. Oba Akinbobola who revealed that some of the material evidences found at the sites were taken to Britain while some were once archived in Owo Museum, which got burnt. “However we still have some here in my palace.”
He expressed disappointments at the failure of government at all levels at enhancing the site. “We are not losing hope on this. I am not happy seeing this place in its rustic form. I have done all things humanly possible to alert all the governors that have ruled the state since I ascended the throne. The only glee of light is from the imcubent governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko who has extended facilities and infrastructure like light and clinic to the village closer to the cave and promised that his government would do something before the expiration of his tenure.” Attesting to this, a call was put through to Ambassador Wanle Akinboboye, the newly appointed Special Adviser, Tourism and Culture to Governor Mimiko who confirmed, “It is a fact. Iwo Eleru Cave, Isarun is one of the tourism sites, which the governor has directed me to work on and see what we can do to enhance for visibility and traffic. I am taking an inventory of the tourism contents of all our tourism sites in Ondo State. Our team is visiting Iwo Eleru in a couple of weeks. You will certainly hear good story on this wonderful sites.”
Oba Akinbobola also revealed, “In anticipation of logistic and other demand that may arise in case the government at any level desiring to develop the site, I have acquired a large parcel of land to compensate those whose farm may be claimed by development. “I bought several hectares some years ago. This is to show you that we, the people of Isarun are ready to support and contribute our own quota copiously to support the effort of which ever agency or government interested at developing this site. “This is what has been our fate. Imagine a world-class historical evidence of evolution and social transformation hidden so poorly from enhancement and development? Imagine a place where world scholar, a white man hired helicopter to visit, worked hard, carried out rigorous excavation for months and found something which has illuminated global knowledge.
The findings also incited historical intellectual debate, reconstructed erroneous impression and odious view about evolution of humankind as related to West Africa since 1965 till date still reeling in infrastructural obscurity and development for socio-economic appreciation and sustainability. Though Iwo Eleru, Isarun, a cave where Stone Age activities took place is located in Ondo State, yet, its relevance and import is not solely Ondo State’s. It calls for a collective effort on all Nigerians government at all levels and corporate entities and international bodies interested in promotion of knowledge and preservation of history.