New discovery confirms the Cape is the Cradle of Human Culture

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New discovery confirms the Cape is the Cradle of Human Culture
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New discovery confirms the Cape is the Cradle of Human Culture
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07 October 2019

The discovery was made in the Cape South Coast, Western Cape, and further suggests that humankind’s cognitive and creative abilities advanced in this area and may help confirm that the Cape is the Cradle of Human Culture.

“We are proud of Dr Helm’s latest findings. It provides further evidence that the development of modern human behaviour started in the Western Cape. This new discovery will form part of the Cradle of Human Culture which was launched earlier this year in conjunction with Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Department of Economic Development and Tourism and the Cradle of Humankind. Our province is rich with cultural heritage and history, this is just another reason why people should visit our province,” says Wesgro CEO, Tim Harris.

This probable archaeological phenomenon provides yet another suggestion that human behaviour developed in the Western Cape. In 2016 Helm, his wife Linda and friend, Guy Thesen, discovered fossilized human footprints in rock surfaces in a cave near Knysna, Western Cape. Over the past decade Helm’s team of researchers has discovered over 140 fossil tracksites along this coastline, made by reptiles, birds and mammals. Helm explains his team’s thinking behind the latest findings in a press release: “We asked the following questions: in addition to recording the fossil footprints of ancient humans, could those ancient dune and beach surfaces have recorded other evidence of human activity, such as patterns, symbols, sculptures, or evidence of foraging? If so, could such ancient canvases of sand, now preserved as surfaces of coastal rocks, leave evidence that can be discerned and interpreted today? Indeed, could such evidence form a previously undocumented form of Middle Stone Age human expression and activity?”

Once Helm and his team hypothesized this idea they went on to look for a human ‘signature’ on rock surfaces which contained a multitude of lines, grooves, patterns and shapes, and reported on their findings at eight selected sites on the Cape South Coast: two in the Garden Route National Park, five in Goukamma Nature Reserve and one east of Still Bay. The main challenge was to look for evidence that these symbols and patterns were created by humans in sand, and had not been formed as a result of natural agents such as wind, water, fossil roots and branches, or traces made by invertebrates, reptiles, birds or other mammals. Of the eight sites, some were reported as being equivocal, whereas others seemed more compelling, such as a near-perfect circle with a central depression that hinted at how it may have been created, a ‘hashtag’ (chevron) pattern that appeared similar to known abstract art in Blombos Cave, or an array of grooves clustered around a possible human footprint.

Samples were taken and sent for dating. Based on previous dating studies obtained from rocks in this region, the team anticipates that the results are likely to provide a range of 70,000 to 158,000 years.

These findings directly link to the Cradle of Human Culture, consisting of two routes showcasing the earliest evidence of modern human behaviour including social, behavioural and cultural innovation.

Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais commends Dr Charles Helm and his team and gratefully welcomes their latest findings. Minister Marais said, “The new developments in research now affirms that the Cradle of Human Culture is not only an archaeological discovery, but is indeed a journey of human expression and humanity itself that showcases the behavioural development of Homo sapiens from as far back as 100 000 years ago”.

David Maynier, Provincial Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, congratulated Dr Helm and his team: “These are truly extraordinary findings! Archaeological research such as this is so important to our understanding of ancient humans, and these discoveries contribute greatly to our diverse range of cultural tourism offerings in the Western Cape.”

Date: 7 October 2019


Nabiella De Beer | PR and Social Media Officer

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