Late afternoon view over False Bay from Gordon's Bay toward Cape Town.

Atavism is the archaeology of the soul.

How so? And what is “atavism” in the first place?

The term “atavism” or “atavistic” is derived from Latin “atavus” meaning great-great-great-…. grandfather or “ancestor”, “ancestral” – in other words, referring to something very old, millions of millions of years old and which still belongs to us, is with us and within us —— now, what the heck could that be!

It’s like stumbling onto something in the attic and there in the corner, under layers of dust, something long forgotten is uncovered. You dust it off, open it up and find all kind of letters of sorts, written by one of your fore-fathers, difficult to decipher, but something that relates to you and reverberates within you as you read it although you have no idea why those letters are still here and what to do with them. No-one has ever mentioned them to you before. But there they are. Letters written some hundred or more years ago. And in reading them you connect to your past, as tenuous as it possibly may appear to you, yet there is a ring of truth to it. You feel an emotional link, it runs in your blood, you sit up and take notice. Something has struck a cord in you. Something deep down within you has surfaced and made itself known to you.

In a kind of similar, yet very different way, forms of life, cell-matter, cell-memories, going back to when the first organisms were formed on our planet, are still with us and within us as a species.

Early embryos of various species display some ancestral feature, like the tail on this human fetus. These features normally disappear in later development, but it may not happen if the animal has an atavism.

Atavism or atavistic is often used in a negative sense, as throwback, reversion to a primitive type which we have outgrown. Let us look though at rehabilitating the term or concept in adding another term: Stromatolites.

Stromatolites, that is pre-cambrian petrified biofilm about one billion years old in the Siyeh rock formation of Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. (Wikipedia)
The Oldest Fossils. Stromatolites are Earth's oldest of fossils and a visual portal into deep time on earth, the emergence of life, and the evolving of the beautiful forms of life of modern time. A small piece of stromatolites encodes biological activity perhaps spanning thousands of years. (see Wikipedia: Stromatolites)

The Oldest Fossils

A small piece of stromatolites encodes biological activity perhaps spanning thousands of years. In broad terms, stromatolites are fossil evidence of the prokaryotic life (cells that lack a membrane-bound nucleus are called prokaryotes – from the Greek “before nuclei”. Bacteria and cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are prokaryotes). They maintain the homeostasis of the earth, rendering the biosphere habitable for all other life. They maintain and recycle the atomic ingredients of which proteins, the essence of life, are made, including oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. We humans have descended from organisms that adapted to living in a prokaryotic world, and we retain in our mitochondria* – the cellular machinery to power our cells that we inherited from the prokaryotes of deep time on earth.

There you have it,
in a nut-shell.
We are what we are
and more of it.
And when we came and were
it knew of us
before we knew
and more
of it.

With love
Walter & Colleen
Betty’s Bay, Ascension Day, June 2, 2011

* In addition to supplying cellular energy, mitochondria are involved in a range of other processes, such asignalingcellular differentiationcell death, as well as the control of the cell cycle and cell growth.