Mossel Bay’s Pinnacle Point Caves – which have revealed the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour – are now accessible to small, escorted groups of visitors.
The Caves have recently been declared a Provincial Heritage Site. They’ve been the subject of intensive study since 2000 by the SACP4 Project (South African Coastal Palaeoclimate, Palaeoenvironment, Palaeoecology, and Palaeoanthropology Project), under the direction of Professor Curtis Marean of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.
According to research which Prof. Marean and his team published in 2007, this is probably where the small, core population that gave rise to all humans alive today first began to exhibit significantly modern behaviour. It was here that we began to harvest the ocean systematically, to use ochre for symboling, and to embed bladelets into other media to create complex tools.
A later study under Dr. Kyle Brown – also of the SACP4 Project – showed that it’s most likely that this is where we first used fire to improve the quality of our stone tools.
The remains in the Caves – which date as far back as 164,000 years – were discovered by Jonathan Kaplan, the director of the Agency for Cultural Resource Management, and Peter Nilssen (who was then a doctoral student) during an archaeological survey which they conducted as part of the environmental impact assessment into the proposed development of the Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort.
The ‘Point of Human Origins’ tours of the Caves began in June.
“The archaeological material there is very sensitive, so we had to get permission from Western Cape Heritage, and the cooperation of the SACP4 Project and the Pinnacle Point Homeowners Association, which owns the property – before we could go ahead,” said Mossel Bay’s Fred Orban, whose company, The Oystercatcher Trail, will provide the logistics for the tours.
He said that a number of different programmes have been designed, and that lunch at the Pinnacle Point Club house can be included as an optional extra.
“All the tours will be conducted by Peter Nilssen, or a similarly qualified scientist, and all of them will begin with a short introductory lecture in the Club House.”
Mr. Orban said that the tours are open to members of the public, and that they’ll now be offered as optional adds-on to the Oystercatcher Trail’s already established, award-winning Silver and Green packages, and that they’ll be included in its Gold Packages. (The Oyster Catcher Trail is a multi-day, guided, portered walk along the coast from Mossel Bay’s Cape St. Blaize to the Gourits River Mouth).
Mossel Bay Tourism’s Marcia Holm welcomed the announcement.
“People are fascinated by the story of human evolution, and this is driving a whole new niche in tourism. We’re seeing a growing trend in travel to sites like Oldupai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley, and the even older Sterkfontein in the Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng.
“But as fascinating as those places are, Mossel Bay’s archaeology is much closer to us today because this is where human beings started to think and behave in much the same way that we do today.
“As far as we know, this is where culture began, and we’re excited that our visitors will be able to visit the Pinnacle Point Caves in the company of such highly qualified professionals to learn about this.
“These tours should go a long way towards positing Mossel Bay as one of the world’s premier evolution tourism destinations.”
Mr. Orban said that the Point of Human Origin Tours are operating on a fixed schedule, and that each tour will accommodate a maximum of twelve people.
“Although the Oystercatcher Trail is handling the ground arrangements, this is a collaborative effort between Western Cape Heritage as the custodians of the archaeology, the SACP4 Project as the researchers, the Mossel Bay Archaeology Project as the people who handle the education, public outreach, consultation and other aspects of the archaeology, and of the Pinnacle Point Homeowners Association, which owns the property.”
He said that some of the proceeds will go to the Mossel Bay Archaeology Project and some to the Home Owners Association to help with maintenance of the site.
“We’re offering a high quality experience for small numbers of people,” he said.
Archaeology of Mossel Bay: www.visitmosselbay.co.za/archaeology