Pinnacle Point is a small promontory immediately south of Mossel Bay, a town on the southern coast of South Africa. Excavations since the year 2000 of a series of caves at Pinnacle Point have revealed occupation by Middle Stone Age people between 170,000 and 40,000 years ago. The focus of excavations has been at Cave 13B (PP13B), where the earliest evidence for the systematic exploitation of marine resources (shellfish) and symbolic behavior has been documented, and at Pinnacle Point Cave 5-6 (PP5–6), where the oldest evidence for the heat treatment of rock to make stone tools has been documented. The only human remains have been recovered from younger deposits at PP13B which are ≈100,000 years old.
History of the research
The discoveries at Pinnacle Point have been made by an international team, headed by palaeoanthropologist Curtis Marean from the Institute of Human Origins of the Arizona State University as well as researchers from South Africa (UCT), Australia (Archaeology Program, La Trobe University, UoW), Israel, and France.
After debating for decades, paleoanthropologists now agree there is enough genetic and fossil evidence to suggest that Homo sapiens evolved in Africa ca. 200,000–160,000 years ago. At that time, the world was in an ice age, and Africa was dry and arid. As archaeological sites dating to that time period are rare in Africa, paleontologist Curtis Marean analyzed geologic formations, sea currents, and climate data to pinpoint likely archeological sites. One of the destinations was Pinnacle Point.
Pinnacle Point 13B and its implications for modern behaviour
At PP13B, the evidence for symbolic behavior comes in the form of scraped and ground ochre (a naturally occurring bright red rock) that may have been used to form a pigment for body painting. This is similar to more complex ochre utilization known from Blombos Cave slightly farther to the west at roughly 70,000 years ago. These discoveries contradict the classical hypothesis that the modern behaviour emerged only 40,000 years ago and was reached through a "large cultural leap". The harsh climate and reduced food resources may have been why people moved to the shore at Pinnacle Point, where they could eat marine creatures like shellfish, whale, and seal.
In December 2012, the provincial heritage resources authority Heritage Western Cape declared Pinnacle Point a provincial heritage site in the terms of Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act. This provides the site with the highest form of protection under South African heritage law.
- Marean, Curtis W.; Bar-Matthews, Miryam; Bernatchez, Jocelyn; Fisher, Erich; Goldberg, Paul; Herries, Andy I.R.; Jacobs, Zenobia; Jerardino, Antonieta; Karkanas, Panagiotis; Minichillo, Tom; Nilssen, Peter J.; Thompson, Erin; Watts, Ian; Williams, Hope M. (October 18, 2007), "Early Human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene", Nature 449: 905–908, doi:10.1038/nature06204, retrieved April 3, 2013
- Brown, Kyle S.; Marean, Curtis W.; Herries, Andy I.R.; Jacobs, Zenobia; Tribolo, Chantal; Braun, David; Roberts, David L.; Meyer, Michael C.; Bernatchez, J., (August 14, 2009), "Fire as an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans", Science 325: 859–862, doi:10.1126/science.1175028
- Marean, Curtis W.; Nilssen, Peter J.; Brown, Kyle S.; Jerardino, Antonieta; Stynder, Deano (May 2, 2004), "Paleoanthropological investigations of Middle Stone Age sites at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay (South Africa): Archaeology and hominid remains from the 2000 Field Season.", Paleoanthropology 1: 14–83, retrieved April 4, 2013
- Henshilwood, C.S.; d'Errico, F.; Yates, R.; Jacobs, Z.; Tribolo, C.; Duller, G.A.T.; Mercier, N.; Sealy, J.C.; Valladas, H.; Watts, I.; Wintle, A.G. (February 15, 2002), "Emergence of modern human behavior : Middle Stone Age engravings from South Africa", Science 295 (5558): 1278–1280, doi:10.1126/science.1067575, PMID 11786608
- Marean, Curtis W. (September - October 2010), "Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (Western Cape Province, South Africa) in context: The Cape Floral kingdom, shellfish, and modern human origins", Journal of Human Evolution 59 (3-4): 425–443, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.07.011, PMID 20934095, retrieved April 4, 2013
- "Provincial Notice 70/2012", Province of the Western Cape Provincial Gazette (Cape Town) (7075), December 14, 2012: 2672