Billy Coffey

writer, observer, learner

Mabe Man

guangdongI read an article last week about how scientists are just now getting results from tests they ran on a 126,000-year-old human. Mabe Man, they call him, because he was found near Mabe in China’s Guandong Province.

Not really the sort of article I would be interested in, but I had some time to kill and it was either that or stare at the wall in front of me. So I kept reading.

I’m glad I did.

Seems Mabe Man had a rough go at it. That in itself isn’t surprising—I would imagine life back then was fraught with all sorts of peril, not the least of which was where to find the next meal. Life expectancy hovered around thirty years. Our place in the food chain was somewhere south of saber-toothed tigers.

When Mabe Man was first discovered in 1958, his bones were cataloged, shoved in a museum basement, and promptly forgotten. It was only recently that he was rediscovered again. Fortunately, science has progressed quite a bit over the last 60 years. There’s a lot we can know about him now that could only be guessed then, and a lot of fancy tests that can help bring out the humanity in our ancestors. Things like a simple CT scan, for instance. When the scientists did just that, what they found was morbidly interesting in the same way as witnessing the aftermath of a car wreck.

To break it down to a level I could understand, Mabe Man had gotten the hell beaten out of him.

His skull had been fractured. Scientists concluded it was the result of blunt force trauma. Not your everyday sort of blunt force trauma, either. This poor guy didn’t receive his injuries by tripping over a rock in some primeval forest. No, he was beaten. The conclusion was that his wounds could have only been given by some sort of clubbed weapon.

The scientists seemed surprised at that finding. Not me. And I doubt that deep down you’re not very surprised, either. Recorded history is full of violence. Full of war and hate and bloodshed. I read once that when all the annals of every nation’s history are combined, what you get is a total of seven years of peace. Seven out of tens of thousands. We’ve always hurt each other. We always will. It’s a basic tenet of the Christian faith—we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.

Mabe Man’s story could end there, but it doesn’t. There’s more. His wounds would have caused excessive bleeding and a severe concussion. Brain damage would have been likely. He was helpless. And 126,000 years ago, being helpless meant you were dead.

But he didn’t die.

His wounds healed.

And not only did they heal, but he lived for years afterward.

Why? Because he was cared for. He was nursed back to health. His wounds were bound and his stomach was filled and he was given shelter.

Scientists seemed even more surprised at that. Mabe Man survived because he was loved.

Me, I find a beauty there, and also a profound truth. It means love has always sought to put back together that which hate has broken. It means that our hands have always been able to heal as much as harm. It means that since the dawn of humanity, each of us contains three people—the angel, the demon, and the one who decides which we will obey. That’s what it means to be human.

That’s a basic tenet of the Christian faith, too.

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  1. It’s amazing the stuff they can learn from old bones these days.
    This makes me think of the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9.

  2. And mabe…just maybe there’s hope in the midst of the crisis and healing in the hurt. Thanks Billy.

  3. And praise God that we know Love wins over it all.


  4. I’ve always thought it was some sort of paradox, how easily we’re broken and hurt but at the same time, how much we can live through. It blows me away and makes me panic, just a little.

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