A journey through the Cradle of Human Culture traces the origins and development of human culture over the past 160 000 years and in the process, it also uncovers what it means to be human. From engraved ostrich eggshells and bone tools to shell beads and the first evidence of drawing, visitors will discover some of humanity’s earliest use of symbols, art and technological innovation. While the Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng holds some of the earliest evidence of the human journey starting from about 3.5 million years ago, the Cradle of Human Culture holds evidence of how our ancestors started to manifest abstract thought, to use fire to improve their tool-making skills and to systematically exploit marine resources for their nutrition.
The Cradle of Human Culture includes several archaeological and palaeontological sites in the Western Cape. The three major ones are Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Cape West Coast (Weskus), Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point on the Southern Cape Coast. A trip to the Cradle of Human Culture includes more than these three sites and the development and expression of human culture can be traced across all sites.
This is the Coastal Journey:
📍DAY 1: Cape Town
Visitors can enjoy the work of local artists at the Maboneng Township Arts Experience, view collections ranging from fossils to rock art at the Iziko South African Museum, where you can explore the exhibition “Mother Africa Welcome Home”. This is a compilation of multimedia, artifacts and objects offering a deep insight into the lives of our early ancestors.
📍DAY 2: Stellenbosch
The seven-hectare Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden in Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch, is set among lush indigenous vegetation. The project was born in 2009 when its creator, the artist Dylan Lewis, started shaping the contours of the garden. A theme integral to his work includes “the untamed wilderness within the human psyche”, which he expresses through his sculptures and their positioning on the landscape. He has placed more than 60 sculptures in this beautiful setting – ranging from human and shamanic figures to large abstract works and his iconic big cats.
Visit this serene place by appointment to admire the art, be one with nature and experience a sense of spirituality and transience conveyed by this minimalist space. To arrange a visit, email email@example.com or call +27 (0)21 880 0054.
The ‘Kayamandi Township Tour’ and ‘Dine with a Local’ experience offer visitors to Stellenbosch the chance to dine with locals from different backgrounds and learn about their daily lives, listen to their stories and hear of their hopes and aspirations. Dip into traditional African or Cape Malay cuisine while enjoying local wines from one of the many local estates surrounding the university town.
📍DAY 3: Stanford – De Kelders – Arniston
The Phillipskop Mountain Reserve lies 10km east of Stanford. This is one of the few sites with rock art in the Cape Overberg region and the only known site in the Cape Whale Coast. It contains rare yellow handprints attributed to Khoe herders. There are also paintings of a group of men and an antelope representing the San hunter-gatherer tradition. Phillipskop’s rock art site is reachable through the Phillipskop Nature Reserve with a 2km walk from the reserve’s reception and carpark. The Waterfall Hiking Trail takes the visitors to the foot of the slope up to the cave. There is a short but steep path to the cave near the waterfall; appropriate shoes and steady feet are advised. Access to the reserve is via a 3km dirt road, which is best accessible by vehicles with a higher ground clearance.
Klipgat Cave is located close to the seaside village of De Kelders and it is accessed via the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, managed by Cape Nature. Here visitors will be welcomed by dramatic ocean views. Klipgat Cave was occupied during the Middle and Later Stone Age from about 80 000 years ago to about 50 000 years go and then again from 2 000 to 1 200 years ago. Amongst some of the main findings in the cave, archaeologists uncovered some of the earliest human remains of Homo sapiens. The bones of early fat-tailed sheep and pottery discovered here show that Khoe pastoralists lived in the area from about 2 000 years ago, one of the oldest dates in the Western Cape. Detailed information boards at the site will lead the visitors through the daily lives of our ancestors from the Middle Stone Age through the Later Stone Age.
Continue your exploration at the picturesque seaside town of Waenhuiskrans, also known as Arniston, about 25km from Bredasdorp. Here discover – though only at low tide – the massive limestone Waenhuiskrans Cave falling within the Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve. The effort to get there, walking along the beach and scampering up some rocks, is worth it for the incredible views, even though there have been no archaeological finds in the cave.
📍DAY 4: Still Bay
At Still Bay at least 25 stonewalled fish traps represent the technological and economic evolution of early fishing practices in the area. These traps were built at the correct height to trap fish during a falling tide. They illustrate a traditional fishing method along the Southern Cape coast that endured through the ages. They have been declared a National Heritage Site in 2018 and are located within a Marine Protected Area managed by Cape Nature. Local fishermen and farmers have been responsible for the maintenance of these fish traps since at least the early 20th century. More recently the greater community has contributed to ensuring that the local/indigenous knowledge regarding these fish traps is not lost and that they are adequately maintained. These traps will provide visitors with a unique experience from a historical, aesthetic and scientific perspective and will shed light on a traditional fishing method still in use today.
Blombos Cave - not open to the public
Blombos Cave is a world-famous archeological site, overlooking the sea and located in a private nature reserve not open to the public. Archaeologists have uncovered some of the first evidence of symbolism, cognitive thinking and technological advancement, traits used to define modern human behaviour. Specific findings include a piece of engraved ochre, which is the first known ochre engraving found in the archaeological record and dated to 75 000 years ago; “the oldest artist’s toolkit”, which is evidence of a 100 000-year-old ochre-processing workshop; “the oldest drawing (or hashtag)” dated to 73 000 years ago and some of the first evidence of body decoration, in the form of perforated estuarine shell beads.
Blombos Cave was declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 2015 and it is currently on the tentative serial nomination list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is expected to be declared a World Heritage Site within the next few years. While the site is closed to the public, the small Blombos Museum of Archaeology in Still Bay offers visitors with the possibility of exploring some of the fascinating findings of this site. The exhibition is in the process of being modernized.
📍DAY 5: Mossel Bay
At the archaeological site of Pinnacle Point an international team of researchers has found some of the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour. Excavations in the various caves have showed that here, for possibly the first time in the archaeological record, early humans systematically exploited shellfish as part of their diet, heated silcrete (a type of rock) to make more efficient stone tools; made advanced “micro-lithic” stone tools for projectile weapons and consistently ground ochre pigment, either for symbolic or functional purposes. This site was declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 2012 and it is currently included in the tentative serial nomination list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is expected to be declared a World Heritage Site within the next few years.
Visitors can plan and book a Point of Human Origins Experience tour to gain profound insight not only into the discoveries at the site and how Middle Stone Age people were living here between 170 000 and 40 000 years ago, but also to reflect on where we came from, consider where we are now – and where we are heading as the human race.
The cave at Cape St Blaize, below the Mossel Bay’s lighthouse, is the site of some of South Africa’s first Middle Stone Age archaeological excavations. More recently, parts of the cave were explored by scientists as part of the Mossel Bay Archaeology Project, which was also conducting excavations at the Pinnacle Point Site Complex. Information boards on-site illustrate the history of the site and its importance in the history of archaeology.
The cave is open to the public and there is no access fee. It is a short walk from the Mossel Bay Waterfront and provides beautiful views of the ocean. It is also located at the beginning of the Cape St Blaize Trail, a 13.5km trail which joins Mossel Bay and Dana Bay and also crosses the Pinnacle Point Estate.
📍DAY 6: George - Oudtshoorn
Book a two-hour ‘Dine with a Local’ experience through the George Tourism office to share a home-cooked meal with locals and enjoy music, poetry or dancing together. Diners can experience traditional cuisine and supporting this local development project.
The Cango Caves is one of the world’s great natural wonders, sculpted by nature through the ages to create limestone formations in a wide variety of colours. Visitors can explore the spectacular underground wonders including the finest dripstone caverns, vast halls and towering formations.
A beautiful and highly informative exhibition on the first floor of the interpretation centre explains in “A journey through time” how the caves were formed and the human species evolved over time. It also describes in detail the intermittent human occupation of the cave and adjacent area starting from about 80 000 years ago, providing a glimpse of how the environment changed over time. A rock art exhibition also illustrates the rock art found in the cave and in the overall area and its significance. Due to a recent increase in visitors, it is essential to book in advance.
📍DAY 7: Plettenberg Bay
Make your way to the spectacular Robberg Nature Reserve to track some fascinating archaeological discoveries at Nelson Bay Cave. The site preserves archaeological materials from the Middle and Later Stone Age and thus dates from more than 40 000 years ago up to recent San occupation. Artefacts ranging from Middle Stone Age tools to 2 000-year-old pottery, graves containing human remains buried in a fetal position and decorated with shells and ochre and many more cultural finds have been found in the cave.
Nelson Bay cave was first excavated in the 1960s and the results showed that the diet of the early humans who lived here comprised of food ranging from birds, eggs and plants to shellfish, as well as seals and bush pigs. Archaeological remains dating back to about 5 000 years, resulted in large middens. Access to the site is from inside the nature reserve, about 8km from the coastal town of Plettenberg Bay. Set aside enough time to explore the cave and its beautiful surroundings.