Pinnacle Point

“The earliest evidence for modern human behaviour.”

The Pinnacle Point Caves have 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: the systematic harvesting of food from the sea, the use of complex bladelet technology, and the use of ochres for symboling

Prof. Marean announced the initial results of the SACP4 Project in a paper which he co-authored with Dr. Nilssen and ten others. ‘Early human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene’ was published in the 18 October, 2007 edition of the international journal of science, Nature (449, 905-908).

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.

In ‘An early and enduring advanced technology originating 71,000 years ago in South Africa’ (Nature 491, 590-593 - 22 November 2012), Dr. Brown, Prof. Marean, and seven others reported the earliest evidence for small blade tools that signal the use of true projectile weapons such as spear throwers.

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.

Climate change

The Caves are also significant because they may provide clues as to how our species reacts to climate change.

Scientists working on the project are developing a continuous picture of the local climate from 400,000 to about 30,000 years ago.

According to Prof. Marean: “Isotopes embedded in dripstone formations and other mineral deposits in the caves - speleothems, raised beaches, fossil dunes, and other palaeontological assemblages - reveal information about the water which filtered into the caves in the past, and this in turn provides information about the kind of climate that existed and what type of vegetation grew above the caves during periods of human habitation.

“By correlating our knowledge of the climate with what we’re learning about the habits of the people who lived in the Caves, we hope to learn how humans can be expected to adapt to climate change in the future.”

Provincial Heritage Site

The Pinnacle Point Caves have recently been declared a Provincial Heritage Site.

The declaration was made in terms of section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act (Number 25 of 1999), and was announced in the Western Cape Government’s Provincial Gazette.

This is a significant step towards having Pinnacle Point declared a World Heritage Site.