This Is the World’s Oldest Human Population

The Photo Blog
Nov. 4 2013 12:37 PM

This Is the World’s Oldest Human Population

Daniel and Bettie, Khomani community, Andriesvale, South Africa, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo

For his series “Comeback to Kalahari,” photographer Nicola Lo Calzo spent two months in South Africa with the San of the southern Kalahari—one of the most ancient indigenous groups in the world. According to researchers, the San are descended from humanity’s earliest ancestors and are among the most genetically diverse people on Earth. 

Originally hunters and gatherers, many of the San in South Africa were forced to give up their lifestyle and become farmers in the 1930s when the government created the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park on their territory. Since then, the San have fought to reclaim their ancestral land in South Africa and other parts of the continent. Today, according to the South African San Institute, at least 600 people are registered as part of the southern Kalahari San community.

Lo Calzo chose to photograph them as well as their community provide a holistic sense of place. “In all my work, including ‘Inside Niger’ and ‘Morgante,’ I have been interested in marginalized social groups,” Lo Calzo said via email. “I wish to understand and to explore their survival strategy in a world increasingly normalized and normalizing. In the case of the San people, their relationship to the past, to their own tradition, their complex coexistence with the global world, their history of persecution and their contemporary strategy of resistance are aspects I have tried to investigate through this [project].”

Klaus, Khomani community, Andriesvale, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo

Hanna, Khomani community, Upington, South Africa, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo

Johnny, Khomani community, Andriesvale

Nicola Lo Calzo


With SASI’s support and guidance, Lo Calzo spent time in Andriesvale, Upington, and Platfontein, South Africa. Still, his main challenge was finding acceptance in the community. “Especially in a country that has not yet resolved its racist and segregationist past ... the mission was difficult but very stimulating,” he said.

Although the San have settled many of their land battles, Lo Calzo said that they are still struggling to find their place in South African society. “In the absence of basic social services, poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, illiteracy, cannabis and AIDS affect the population. For example, in the township of Andriesvale, the nearest school, with a rudimentary hospital, is 15 kilometers from the township. People live by their wits. Some of them dress in hunters’ clothes in order to satisfy the exotic taste of some naïve tourists during their desert safaris,” he said.

Besides the daily challenges of survival, the San face another struggle: the preservation of their culture. “Like all South Africans of their age, San youths hear R&B music, chat on their cellphones, watch American television shows of the moment and wear trendy clothes,” Lo Calzo said. “The main challenge for the older generation is to transmit the ancestral knowledge of the tradition: the collection of plants, the traditional language of Clics, the songs and dances, the spirituality, the tanning of the skins of antelopes, which are now destined for the tourism market.”

Willem, Khomani community, Andriesvale, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo

Elia, Khomani community, Andriesvale, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo

Jan, Khomani community, Andriesvale, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo

Petra, Khomani community, Groot Mier, South Africa, 2009

Nicola Lo Calzo



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.