The Dawn of Time

May 30, 2023
Tom Wilkinson
Thinking in English
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[00:00:05] Pioneers of The Continuum. 

[00:00:07] A story for English learners. 

[00:00:09] Episode four, "The Dawn of Time", starring Tom Wilkinson from Thinking in English. 

[00:00:18] You can find the interactive transcript, subtitles and vocabulary for this episode for free at 

[00:00:27] “Really, Jacob? A lighter? A chocolate bar? Beef jerky? A backpack? You’re giving all this to a group of cavemen?”

[00:00:41] I sighed to myself. Winston seemed to have changed since getting back from his journey through time. Now he was suddenly “very concerned” about my journey through time, a journey that I was about to leave on in a few minutes.

[00:00:57] Did I really have to tell him again?

[00:01:00] “Winston, I’ve told you before; they’re not ‘cavemen’. And I won’t be able to communicate with them, so I'll need to bring gifts. I’ll give them chocolate and if they don’t like it, they’re sure to like the beef jerky. The lighter is to impress them.”

[00:01:20] Seems reasonable enough, right? Clearly it wasn’t enough for Winston.

[00:01:26] “Well, I don’t like it at all,” he said. “You’ll end up inventing fire for them. You’ll change the course of history of an entire world.”

[00:01:37] It was almost as if he couldn’t see how hypocritical he was being! Someone needed to tell him.

[00:01:45] “But that’s exactly what you were going to do! You killed a historical figure, did you not? Anyway, humans invented fire 300,000 years ago and I’m travelling back to 100,000 years ago.”

[00:02:01] “ Don’t leave anything there!”, he added sarcastically.

[00:02:06] I couldn’t wait to get away from him and finally have a bit of peace.

[00:02:11] “Okay, everyone,” I said. “Listen, I need to focus. I’m pretty much ready, just press…”

[00:02:20] Bobby was quick on the trigger, pressing the button to launch me through time before I even finished my sentence. He knew how much Winston and I fought and figured sending me back 100,000 years into the past was a good way of keeping us apart.

[00:02:44] Aha, peace at last!

[00:02:48] I was alone on the slope of a hill covered with trees and grass, somewhere in what would become East Africa, and all was completely silent and peaceful. 

[00:03:00] The chill in the air reminded me that we were in a minor ice age. Wonderful!

[00:03:08] I would have loved to sit and enjoy the scenery and the silence, but I wanted to find some humans!

[00:03:15] Winston had ignorantly called them “cavemen”. 

[00:03:19] It’s not that our ancestors only lived in caves, but caves were the main places where their bones were preserved. Maybe they lived in wooden houses. We didn’t know, but perhaps I would find out. At this time, different species of humans lived on Earth, including our own species: homo sapiens.

[00:03:44] I chose this spot because cave art had been found here, just at the top of this hill, a few hundred metres away.

[00:03:54] Suddenly, a completely unexpected sound filled the air. 

[00:03:58] Singing! And quite beautiful singing, too.

[00:04:08] I turned to see an old man and a young woman approaching. The woman was the one singing, and the man carried a wooden spear with a stone head. They wore animal skins, sewn crudely together and they walked upright. The girl wore a necklace made of shells. Their dark features were those of modern humans - they were homo sapiens!

[00:04:38] They stopped a few metres away and stared at me, especially my clothing. Understandable, I guess, I was wearing a suit and tie after all.

[00:04:49] I smiled at them, but they didn’t smile back. Would smiling even have a meaning to them?

[00:04:58] I took off my backpack and took out the chocolate bar. The man immediately jumped back and thrust his spear towards me to protect himself. He pushed the girl behind him.

[00:05:13] “Easy, fella! Look, I’ll share some food with you. Food!”

[00:05:18] I removed the chocolate from the wrapper, and showed it to them. Everyone loves a Mars bar, right?

[00:05:26] “Coho?” said the man with a bemused expression.

[00:05:30] I realised my mistake. A chocolate bar to these people would look like… well, it would look like a dried animal dropping. I had learned my first prehistoric word, “coho” and it seemed to mean “poop”. I was recording this on my arm implant and the other team members would laugh when they found out what my first word was.

[00:05:57] “Food!” I said, breaking it in two and eating half. I offered the other half to the man.

[00:06:05] “Benge!” he exclaimed, taking it and putting it into his mouth.

[00:06:10] I watched him carefully. He chewed, swallowed and looked at me. Then he said something to the girl, who removed a shell from her necklace and gave it to me.

[00:06:22] Trade! I had only been here five minutes and I was already learning rich details about their culture and language. Amazing!

[00:06:34] I shifted my focus back to the present. Well, the past, I guess. The man and girl turned and started walking off. Was that it? But after a few steps, they looked back at me. They wanted me to follow.

[00:06:53] I ran to catch up. “I’m JACOB. My name is JACOB.” I felt a bit foolish talking to them as if they were kids, but it seemed to work.

[00:07:07] “Acan o wato HAMSABE,” the man said. He pointed at the girl, “Dana e wate ALLERAMA.”

[00:07:17] This was fantastic! If I could record enough samples of their language, I could reconstruct it when I got back to the lab. Unlike some of the others on my team, I was a serious scientist - an archaeologist and a linguist, not some pseudo-historian who killed Hitler.

[00:07:38] As we were walking, I let the man and girl talk to each other, while I listened and recorded. I was amazed at how rich and varied their language was. It seemed to have a grammar, and it seemed to be very expressive. They were talking about me and pointing to my backpack and my modern clothes. I guessed they wanted to take me to their settlement to trade further - although I later found out that they had something a little different in mind…

[00:08:14] As we cleared the top of the hill, I gasped. There was the opening to the small cave where ancient art had been found - perhaps it had already been painted there or perhaps not.

[00:08:29] Surrounding the cave on the outside was a small circular group of huts, not quite amounting to a village. It looked like around 20 people might live here. A group of women were squatting in the open area, sorting through leaves and berries. A huge fire kept the group warm.

[00:08:51] There were no other men. But, of course! This was a hunter-gatherer society. The young men must be out hunting in the valley. Perhaps they’d return later with their catch. They could even be gone for days.

[00:09:08] As we entered the settlement, the women all turned and stared, then came to see this strange man for themselves.

[00:09:17] Hamsabe introduced me. “Adengo a JACOB. Kinomaro ko moto an ALLERAMA.”

[00:09:26] He remembered my name! But why had he repeated the girl’s name? Allerama.

[00:09:32] The most elderly woman in the group came up to me. Was this Hamsabe’s wife? No… she looked like a shaman - a magic specialist of some kind.

[00:09:45] This old shaman brought her face close to mine… and sniffed.

[00:09:50] “Watara!”

[00:09:52] I’m not sure if she liked my smell - deodorant and aftershave, but she certainly smelled like someone who hadn’t spent much time in the shower.

[00:10:03] She walked around me and pulled at my clothes, fascinated by them. Then, she picked up my backpack, playing with the zip a few times before opening it. She pulled out the lighter.

[00:10:18] “Gomana os?”

[00:10:20] I took it from her and showed her how to operate it.

[00:10:23] [ [ She tried it successfully and then a few times more while the others watched. She burnt her hand and dropped it, then picked it up again.

[00:10:34] “Too e gonna kianna?”

[00:10:37] Obviously, I had no idea what she was asking. Was she asking where it was from? Did she want to keep it? Was she asking to trade? Later, I could analyse the recording in detail and find out. But for now, I was just struggling to figure out what she wanted.

[00:10:58] “A kotte ni ALLERAMA. Garna.”

[00:11:02] Why was she saying the girl’s name again? What was going on? I had imagined myself showing these wondrous items from the future to a group of confused primitives, but I was the one who was confused here.

[00:11:17] The old man - Hamsabe, I think - took me by the shoulders and positioned me in a spot at the front of the village. Then, the girl - Allerama - came forward and placed a necklace of shells around my neck, then another and another until I had five necklaces.

[00:11:37] Why were they doing this? These necklaces must be of great value to these people. I couldn’t believe they would give them away so freely.

[00:11:48] Then, Allerama stood beside me and Hamsabe handed me five more necklaces. He motioned for me to put them around the girl’s neck.

[00:11:58] The truth hit me like a rock. This was some kind of…marriage ceremony!

[00:12:07] “No, no,” I said, shaking my head, this was some huge misunderstanding!

[00:12:14] Hamsabe just stared at me. He didn’t understand “no” and he didn’t understand what shaking my head meant.

[00:12:23] I reconsidered. 

[00:12:25] Well, why not go through with the ceremony? After all, this would be valuable research! I would be out of here before too long - all I needed to do was play along until then.

[00:12:40] So, I turned and placed the necklaces one by one around Allerama’s neck, slowly, playing for time.

[00:12:51] I had never been married before. 

[00:12:54] In fact, I had never even had a girlfriend. 

[00:12:59] Back “home” in 2039, I had an “artificial companion”, a robot who took the role of a wife. It was really quite common, especially given that the male population outnumbered the female by 57%. Having a human wife was something I’d never even considered as a possibility.

[00:13:24] But here we were, 100,000 years ago. I’ve only been here for less than an hour and I’m already getting married!

[00:13:33] What’s more, Allerama was actually quite beautiful - which made it even worse. She had long dark hair and big bright eyes. 

[00:13:46] She… didn’t smell too great in this age before shampoo and perfume, but I hoped I wouldn’t get close enough to find out. I guessed her age at about twenty.

[00:13:59] She put the palm of her hand against my face and, after some hesitation, I put my palm against hers. The villagers broke into a song. 

[00:14:10] Were we married?

[00:14:12] The shaman lady came forward and took my backpack. I stopped her just long enough to remove my chronotrigger. I might need it really soon! Winston wouldn’t like it if I left my lighter and other stuff here, but that was too bad.

[00:14:30] The villagers escorted us both towards the cave, where the art had been discovered. I had a feeling that I was about to discover its purpose.

[00:14:40] At the mouth of the cave, the villagers stopped and we entered accompanied only by the shaman. The cave was narrow and dark, but also familiar - I had actually visited it a month ago, 100,000 years from now.

[00:14:58] We proceeded further into the darkness of the cave, about 50 metres or so and away from the singing and prying eyes of the villagers.

[00:15:09] There was a sudden flash of light, as the shaman worked my lighter. 

[00:15:14] This was the furthest part of the cave and I was stunned to see the same art that I was familiar with, but in much richer colours and greater detail. Here were stories of hunts, battles and angry gods, before time had caused them to fade.

[00:15:35] There was a small fire hearth in the centre of the chamber and the shaman lit it with my lighter. 

[00:15:42] She didn’t burn her fingers this time; she was getting the hang of it.

[00:15:48] Next, she chanted a few words over the fire hearth, and left me alone with Allerama. We looked at each other for a few moments. Was this my wife?

[00:16:01] She took the bottom of my shirt and said, “Tomona?”

[00:16:06] Was…this… some sort of ceremony to bless our wedding? She removed my shirt, pulling it over my head, and then pointed at my trousers and shoes. 

[00:16:20] Were we supposed to make love? That is what newly married couples do, or used to do at least…

[00:16:28] I gulped, nervously, fingering the chronotrigger in my hand. I should go. 

[00:16:36] But I wanted to stay. My hour wasn’t up. I realised I was going to have to break a prehistoric heart.

[00:16:44] Shyly, I removed my trousers and shoes. And then my underpants, which, ridiculously, carried the Batman logo on them.

[00:16:55] I stood naked before my bride in this cave of wondrous prehistoric art, but I wouldn’t let this go any further. Or would I…?

[00:17:07] Allerama took me by the shoulders and pushed me to my knees. Then, she started sifting through my hair. 

[00:17:15] What was she doing? 

[00:17:19] She was grooming me, brushing my hair! I suppose she expected to find lice or other creepy crawlies in my hair. “Bakwa!” she exclaimed when she didn’t find any.

[00:17:33] She moved onto my beard for a few seconds, stroking with her fingers and finding nothing. Then she lifted my arm…

[00:17:41] … and triggered my implant. The artificial section of my arm slid back, revealing a touchscreen, which immediately began beeping loudly and projecting images onto the wall of the cave.

[00:17:55] Allerama screamed. A loud, piercing scream which blasted my eardrums.

[00:18:01] “Shh!” I told her, but she just kept on screaming at the top of her voice.

[00:18:07] The villagers would be here any second… probably with spears. I decided not to find out. I pressed the chronotrigger and…

[00:18:19] And I was back in the lab with the team. 

[00:18:25] My clothes, on the other hand, weren’t. I was stark naked, not even my Batman pants had made it back.

[00:18:35] “WHY are you NAKED?” Ellie asked.

[00:18:39] “And where’s your backpack… and your lighter?” asked Winston.

[00:18:44] “It’s a long story,” I said, covering myself with my hands. 

[00:18:49] “Can someone pass me some clothes?”

[00:18:52] Pioneers of the continuum was a Leonardo English production. 

[00:19:01] The story was written by Emile Dodds and me, Alastair Budge. 

[00:19:06] Jacob was played by Tom Wilkinson from Thinking in English. 

[00:19:12] Make sure to subscribe and follow the podcast to get the next episode straight into your favourite podcast app. 

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