A tribute to Dr Bob Brain
Bob’s findings in the Swartkrans Caves were instrumental to Linda Tucker’s understanding of humanity’s Contract of the Fire – a concept which ultimately forms the foundation of her LionHearted Leadership™ model today, an invitation from the White Lions to use power responsibly at this evolutionary turning point in humankind’s history.
It was with a heavy heart that I paid my respects to my departed friend, palaeoanthropologist Dr ‘Bob’ Brain, who passed away on 8 June 2023 in Pretoria, South Africa, at the age of 92.
We met in the mid-90s, the decade I spent passionately uncovering the mystery of the White Lions, whose pawprints in the sands of time led me to the Cradle of Humankind: the archaeological site where our earliest ancestors were birthed, and where Bob’s findings unearthed a remarkable discovery in humankind’s evolutionary journey.
It was fire – both how it came to, and how it shaped, humanity – that brought our like-minds together: the spark connecting two people on an unquenchable quest for the truth, igniting decades of research.
Bob Brain’s 50 years in palaeoanthropology uncovered evidence of the earliest controlled use of fire by humans. What fascinated me most was that his evidence also indicated that our early ancestors were cohabiting with felines in the Sterkfontein caves, which lie just outside Johannesburg.
Fast forward to Christmas 2022, when I invited Bob (at the age of 91) and his devoted daughter, Mel, to join me in the White Lion Heartlands. It turned out to be his final journey before he departed this Earth for good. But not without an unusually impressive send-off! None of us will forget the extraordinary show of solidarity across the species barrier, when our magnificent pride of lions, led by the White Lion kings, Zukhara and Matsieng, arrived unexpectedly at our camp in the middle of bushveld, and commenced an echoing and seemingly unstoppable ROARing chorus of appreciation. Whether scientist or Indigenous knowledge keeper, every one of us who witnessed this event knew the honouring was for Bob and his critically important discovery.
Bob’s passion for understanding natural history was second to none. He was known amongst his peers as a “scientist’s scientist”. In their tributes, fellow paleoanthropologists have honoured his exemplary dedication to accurate detail. Starting in 1965, Bob tirelessly journeyed every Wednesday to the Swartkrans Cave in the Cradle of Humankind to work with his technicians. “In the process, Bob discovered several hundred early hominid fossils, making him one of the greatest discoverers of early man in Africa,” writes Bruce S. Rubidge at the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Bob Brain spent a lifetime among the world’s scientific elite, but in my experience of the man, there was no hint of pretension or pursuit of fame. Though he never sought the limelight, what he uncovered was truly illuminating.
Lighting the way
So, the burning question is: what took place in those caves at the beginning of human history as we know it? A conversation I had with Bob, which I chronicled in Mystery of the White Lions, could contain the answer.
“Of course, the discovery of burnt bones was very significant,” Brain explained, during my very first visit to his home in Johannesburg – a fascinating house, filled to the brim with historical relics and heavy hardcover books, “And it is significant that they appear abruptly. In excavating further in Swartkrans Member 3, we discovered 270 pieces of bone which showed signs of having been burnt. By contrast, in Member 1, the earliest stratum, none was found, although we examined over 52 000 pieces of fossil bone for the effects of heating.”
This gives us the timeframe during which early humans learned to control fire.
Surrounded by skulls, bones and curious natural artefacts, amongst more palatable objects on the family’s generous kitchen table, Bob explained that an evolutionary leap occurred in humankind’s history in the caves of Swartkrans, one that I now know determined the trajectory of the crisis we as humankind face today.
Bob’s evidence unearthed two significant layers in our history in the same caves. The first was Australopithecus, the ancestral ape man and woman, and the second was Homo erectus, the upright human. He showed that Australopithecines were herbivorous primitives – roots-, shoots- and fruits-eating beings – while the predators of the African plains were the big cats who lived in close quarters with them. In short, Australopithecines were predated upon; while early humankind (Homo erectus) marked a change in the course of evolution. These ancestors turned the tables and developed into the hunters, probably by observing and learning from the big cats themselves.
The event that marked the shift in power was the use of fire – inherently Promethean in nature.
Clearly, this lion-human-fire evolutionary moment that Bob’s research pin-pointed in Swartkrans – the hunted-to-hunter event – has left its patterning deep within the psychic residues of human consciousness, and our relentless power issues.
“Before this point,” Brain summarised for me on that fascinating first visit, “we were subservient to the big cats. After this point we were dominant — and that’s really when the trouble began. We began to view ourselves as all-powerful, as superior to the animal kingdom, and as rulers of the earth. That’s what eventually separated us — and look at the mess we’ve landed ourselves in!”
Prior to this point in evolution, our species was a natural part of the food chain. Then came the initiatory event involving fire. Holding and wielding the flame, we started gaining the upper hand, and after imitating the hunting of the feline predators, we found ourselves on the trajectory to the top of the food chain: the kings of beasts and rulers of the planet. In this position, there was an overriding incentive to view ourselves as different and better. Yet, shamanic wisdom teaches that both these perceptions are deeply mistaken; we are not different from the natural kingdom, nor superior, but remain a critically integral part of it. It is precisely our tendency towards egotism and virtual reality that has created the most dangerous of all illusions in our minds — that of omnipotence.
Fire: spark of life or flame of death
Dr. Bob Brain’s findings in the Swartkrans Caves have become pivotal for my own research into lions, enlightenment and LionHeartedness: illuminating the fact that during this specific time in our species’ history, our early ancestors not only lived together with the prehistoric big cats, but also learned how to actively control fire.
Sadly, this is a skill that has been misused to unleash seemingly unstoppable destruction.
In my second book, Saving the White Lions, I write of the magnificent great cats caged and tortured in South Africa’s diabolical factory farms, bred for the bullet and fed to the lion bone trade:
“I try to recall how the legend goes: fire — was it a gift from the Gods, or did humanity steal it? But I know for sure that these incarcerated lions, like flames burning in the hearth, cannot be owned, or bought. They belong to a higher order.”
It has since become clear to me that our introduction to fire was more than a gift. It was a profound contract between evolving humanity and Gaia – one which also involved the ancient cats. In those caves, our ancestors accepted the empowering responsibility of fire in exchange for dedicated service to Nature. As nocturnal animals, the great cats were keepers of the Flame of Life through the night. That flame was passed onto humans to be keepers of the Flame of Life through the day. This Contract of the Fire, ensuring the cosmic balance in which all life thrives, was broken by humankind the moment we chose to use fire to exercise dominion over that which we are here to serve.
Instead of upholding our commitment to ensure the continuity of all Life, humanity started treating Gaia as a resource to be plundered, desecrating the sacred contract. We replaced the Solar Logos (Divine Law within Nature) with man-made laws granting ourselves rights to “own” and exploit land, animals, plants and all living things. Existence has since become brutally transactional, exploiting the Flame of Life to the point of extinction.
Nevertheless, amidst this meltdown, my continued research into the mythology of the White Lions, as well as the first-hand knowledge I have acquired from watching these luminous beings flourish in the wilds of their ancestral homelands for almost two decades, has shown me that hope is not lost. We find ourselves in the 13th Hour – a critical turning point as well as a time of grace – where humanity faces a karmic and ultimate choice. Do we choose to honour the ancient contract we entered with Gaia in the Swartkrans Caves, and accept our responsibility to Earth by guarding the Flame of Life, or do we continue on our path of destruction ending in our eradication?
Furthermore, I believe it is significant to note from Bob Brain’s findings that the evolutionary lion-human-fire events took place in a former climate crisis. We know that the climate catastrophe we face today is man-made; the consequence of a worldwide fossil fuel economy, and other abuses of firepower.
My understanding of our living Earth (Gaia) is that She is fully capable of restoring Herself. At this moment in time, humanity is facing a climate crisis of our own making; a crisis that requires us individually, and collectively, to honour our sacred contract with Fire and to use its power of illumination to serve our Mother Earth.
In that, lies our opportunity.
So, it is Bob’s findings in the Swartkrans Caves that ultimately form the foundation of my LionHearted Leadership™ model today. What is LionHeartedness? It is that quality of fearlessness, inspired by Love and Respect for the natural world, that allows us to transform the human world. Serving Nature – and ensuring the Flame of all Life remains ignited – I believe, is our true and original nature.
In the current climate crisis, as Earth reclaims her dominion – inviting us to raise our consciousness or be erased – we are faced with the opportunity of a lifetime: to make an evolutionary leap in consciousness back to the heart – the LionHeart – becoming true enlightenment bearers and Guardians of the Flame! Thereby, we will find our way back to grace.
As I write this, I can hear the Tsau Pride, led by King Matsieng and Zukhara, roaring on the distant horizon.
– Feature image: Linda Tucker at Dr Bob Brain’s home in 2022.
Written by Linda Tucker
CEO: Global White Lion Protection Trust and Linda Tucker Foundation
Author: Mystery of the White Lions (2001) Saving the White Lions (2013) LionHearted Leadership™ (2016)