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A Series of Serendipitous Circumstances

A true tale of interlinked happenings that started with a bookseller missing his boat in 1860 and ended up with a two million year old hominid taking a world tour in 2019.

July 1860: A bookseller by the name of Mr Muybridge misses his boat from San Francisco to England. He decides to head across country to New York by stagecoach instead, but suffers a major head injury in a crash in Texas. During his recovery in England, Muybridge is treated by Queen Victoria's physician, Sir William Gull, who recommends the emerging practice of photography to alleviate his boredom.

June 1878: Having become a professional photographer with a reputation for capturing animals in motion, Muybridge is enlisted by horse breeder Leland Stanford to settle a bet that all four of a horse's hooves leave the ground when galloping. Muybridge proves Stanford's theory using a battery of cameras that are triggered as a horse gallops past.

25 February 1888: When doubts are raised about his pictures, Muybridge invents a device to project them in sequence, creating one of the first moving images. He calls it the Zoopraxiscope, and in 1888 Thomas Edison attends a demonstration of the new technology. Edison is so inspired that he develops his own moving-pictures device, the Kinetoscope.

30 December 1895: Former Edison employee William Dickson starts his own motion picture company, Biograph. With Edison threatening to sue, the company moves from New Jersey to California. Biograph's first film, In Old California, directed by DW Griffith, is filmed in a sleepy municipality called Hollywood in 1910.

1912: Encouraged by Biograph's success, plus the favourable weather and varied filming locations offered by the state, more film makers move to California. By 1912 four major film companies - Columbia, Paramount, RKO and Warner Bros - have studios in Hollywood. By the 1930s Hollywood studios are producing more than 600 films a year.

1953: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proposes a Walk of Fame, featuring slabs with the names of actors, directors and musicians, to celebrate the biggest stars of the entertainment industry, and promote the neighbourhood. On 15 August 1958 the first stars, including Joanne Woodward, Burt Lancaster and Olive Borden, are put in place.

23 February 2000: Singer Jennifer Lopez attends the 42nd Grammy Awards wearing a revealing green Versace dress. The dress becomes the most popular search query ever seen by Google and, as a result, the company creates Google Images, a search engine for pictures. Its success prompts the company to expand into satellite imagery and Google Earth is launched in 2004.

December 2007: Bored during the Christmas holidays, American paleoanthropologist Lee Berber begins using Google Earth to explore the Cradle of Humankind, a Unesco World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, South Africa. Using the platform, he discovers over 600 unexplored caves and more than 30 unexplored fossil sites.

August 2008: Accompanied by his nine year old son Matthew, Berger explores the areas he had identified on Google Earth. While chasing his dog, Matthew trips on a log and finds a bone where he lands. After careful excavation, Berger confirms his son has discovered a hitherto unknown hominid species, Australopithecus sediba, which lived some two million years ago.

16 October 2019: The fossil skeleton, which is around 60 percent complete, leaves Africa for the first time. The specimen is flown to Texas for an exhibition at the Perot Museum before going on a worldwide tour. The exhibition reveals that the 1.97 million year old hominid whose remains are on show - christened with the name Karabo, meaning 'answer' in a number of southern African languages - was about Matthew's age when he died.

Courtesy of The Slow Journalism Magazine, issue 37


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