Presented by the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand and the Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE), University of Bergen, the exhibition showcases the archaeological research conducted along the southern Cape’s coastline over the past 25 years by Professor Christopher Henshilwood, Dr Karen van Niekerk and their teams.
Cabinets display carefully crafted replicas of the archaeological artefacts discovered at Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter. The exhibit displays panels illustrating the scientific work of archaeologists as well as films of scenes which recreate the rich daily life of early humans. Celebrating our common ancestry, the exhibition portrays genetic evidence that our human ancestors originated in Africa.
One of the most exciting finds discovered at Blombos Cave is an ochre-processing toolkit – showing that Homo sapiens living on the southern Cape coast 100 000 years ago were behaviourally modern. This group of artefacts provides evidence that these people had a recipe to manufacture a red ochre-rich paint, in effect an early chemistry kit, that was mixed and stored in abalone shells providing evidence for the first known use of containers. We are not sure about the use of the paint; perhaps body or artefacts decoration. Ochre pieces with engraved abstract designs come from the same levels. After 75 000 years the Blombos people created beads from shells, engraved abstract designs on ochre, and made highly sophisticated stone points using heat treatment and special flaking techniques, 55 000 years before the same technique was used in Europe. They also made beautiful bone tools and at nearby Klipdrift Shelter more than a 100 pieces of beautifully engraved ostrich eggshell have been found dating to 65 000 years.
These finds represent some of the biggest breakthroughs in the manufacture and use of symbolic material culture in our own species, Homo sapiens.
View these – and many other fascinating finds relating to our shared African ancestors – at the Spier Old Wine Cellar until February 2019. Admission is free.
The exhibition is curated by Craig Foster, Petro Keene and Jos Thorne.