Cambridge IELTS

IELTS Reading Exercise 20

Choose ONE WORD ONLY from the reading passage for each answer.

The Living Rock

From the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, the Serengeti Plain is seen to stretch endlessly in every direction, a great green savannah, dotted with flat-topped acacia trees, a landscape typical of much of tropical Africa, but breathtaking when met with for the first time. In the half-light of dawn the plain would appear empty, but the sun rises quickly in these parts to silhouette some of Serengeti's many thousands of inhabitants: zebra and buffalo; elephant and giraffe; lion and leopard; antelope of all varieties, including impala, gazelle and wildebeest, numbering more than a million at the last count, whose annual migration in search of water and new pastures is a spectacular and awesome feature of African wildlife. Here, as in many other parts of the continent, animals vastly outnumber humans; this is their kingdom and no one may set foot in it without specific licence. The nomad Masai, who still dream of becoming warriors, herd their humpbacked cattle along the eastern fringe of the Rift Valley, of which the Serengeti National park is but a tiny segment, and the thousands of tourists who flood in every year are kept to prescribed routes to view the finest, and probably the last great assembly of plain animals in the world.

In prehistoric times the relationship between man and beast was much closer than it is in Serengeti today. Indeed, for millions of years there would have been difficulty in telling them apart. Man has a history of at least 70 million years of development; in about the middle of this period various monkey groups evolved and one of the more advanced gave rise to a stock from which sprang the pongids (great apes) and the hominids (humans). There was, however, no sharp dividing line between the two and it was not until a mere 500,000 years ago that a being emerged, named by the anthropologists Homo Erectus, who has been reluctantly accepted by modern man as a possible ancestor. A further 300,000 years were to pass before the advent of Homo Sapiens, whose ability to think and reason, coupled with his physical dexterity, enabled him to become the earth's most dominant species, from which all modern men have derived, no matter their colour or ethnic origin.

Nowhere is the story of human evolution more dramatically told than at Olduvai Gorge in the eastern reaches of the Serengeti, where erosion has cut a deep gash in the grasslands. Provided an anthropologist will take your hand, you can here step, like Alice, through a looking glass into a wonderland of rock strata, more than 300 feet deep, from which relics have been recovered representing a time span of two million years. Although the layers may look barren, they have yielded the fossilised remains of animals long extinct, and of human beings which give an indication of the physical structure and lifestyle of our early ancestors. In 1959, anthropologists Louis Leakey and his wife found an almost complete skull in the lowest bed of Olduvai; they identified it as belonging to the Australopithecines species, the first true hominids. Its most fascinating feature was its exceptionally large and sharp teeth, anchored in powerful jaws, a useful facility as the diet of the day had to be shared with the animals - mainly vegetarian, augmented by rodents, birds, snakes and what could be safely obtained from the larger beasts among which the man lived a million years ago. His name went down in the records as Zinjanthropus boisei, but inevitably he became universally known as 'Nutcracker Man'.

More significant perhaps to developing culture was the fact that the slopes of Olduvai Gorge were found to be littered with thousands of chipped and sharpedged stones of various sizes. The Leakeys judged that they could not have been so fashioned by accident and that they represented the oldest shaped tools on earth. Elsewhere were bones of antelopes, gazelles, elephants and ivory, all of which were useful alternatives to stone for tool-making.

Remains of ancient flint mining can today be seen in Belgium, while in Holland more than 500 metres of galleries and some 35 shafts, mostly about 10 metres deep, have been systematically explored and dated to around 3000 BC. In Britain, there is evidence of flint making on an even bigger scale in several parts of the country. At Grimes Graves in Norfolk, for example, more than 350 shafts and pits have been identified and the filled in remains of as many more are visible. Some shafts went down as deep as 40 metres with galleries going off in all directions, leaving pillars of unworked chalk to support the roof. It must have been an enormous undertaking to dig such complex mines with antler picks and handmade tools of stone and wood. The flint was probably sorted at the bottom of the shaft and hoisted to surface in deerskins, but how the miners got up and down is a mystery; wooden ladders were not known in Britain until the Iron Age and the popular theory is that access was obtained by some sort of ropeladder made with plaited leather thongs, attached to a tree trunk thrown across the top of the shaft.

As this early mining technology developed, people were also discovering many of the other basic secrets of life - how animals could be reared in captivity instead of hunting them on the plains; how plants and grain could be grown from seed; how pottery could be made; and how simple textiles could be woven. More than anything else, the organized growing of crops and animal husbandry freed man from the role of passive and often desperate scavenger, and set him on the road towards controlling his environment instead of being its slave. At the centre of this brave new world, Neolithic man appeared to have everything. And so he had. Everything, that is, except metals.

Source: The Living Rock (1994)

  1. What type of tree grows on the Serengeti?
  2. Which group of people live in the Serengeti today?
  3. Which wooden climbing tool was probably not used to descend into the ancient mines of Britain?
  4. What role does the author say that man played before he learnt how to farm animals?

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