First humans 'lived at southern tip of Africa'

Primitive humans who inhabited the coast of South Africa 165,000 years ago and lived on a diet rich in shellfish could be the original ancestors of everyone alive today, a study suggests.

The people who lived in high caves at Pinnacle Point, overlooking the Indian Ocean near Mossel Bay, harvested and cooked mussels, used red pigment from ground rocks as a form of make-up and made tiny, bladed tools. Experts say they are very likely to be the ancestors of Homo sapiens, the anatomically modern human species which migrated across the world.

It is known that Homo sapiens evolved in Africa between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago but scientists are not sure where on the continent they first arose as a distinct species. The latest evidence points to the southern tip of Africa. Archaeologists working at Pinnacle Point identified stone tools and a red pigment used in ritualistic ceremonies which they believe could only have been used by humans showing "modern behaviour".

The coastal community knew how to exploit the protein-rich food source of the sea and could have used this ability to migrate north by gradually foraging further along the coast, possibly continuing outward migration from Africa with the help of beachcombing.

"It is possible that this population could be the progenitor population for all modern humans," said Professor Curtis Marean, a palaeo-anthropologist at Arizona State University, who led the study published in the journal Nature.

"There was no point in living in a coastal environment unless they were able to eat shellfish and, even in the harshest environment, it is still possible to travel along the coastline and still have access to food."

The dig at Pinnacle Point unearthed the remnants of charred shellfish, intermingled with fine stone tools and ochre pigment, which has been linked with the expression of symbolic behaviour – such as burial ceremonies – in early humans. The tools included small "bladelets" which would have been attached to sticks to form a pointed spear, or lined up like barbs on a dart.

Charred shells suggest the shellfish were put on hot embers to open them for eating. The molluscs could only have been carried into the caves, and their presence alongside tools suggest the cave-dwellers were living off seafood, perhaps in response to the harsh environment, 40,000 years earlier than was thought possible. Human pre-history 165,000 years ago coincided with a long period of climate change, dominated by glacial conditions that caused major droughts. Only a few places on the African continent were habitable and food would have been scarce, the professor said.

Pinnacle Point would have been a perfect refuge in arid periods when life on the plains was difficult. This theory was supported by genetic analysis which showed the Kung San bush people – the original natives of South Africa – were one of the oldest human populations alive today.

Professor Marean added: "Coastal areas were of no use to early humans, unless they knew how to use the sea as a food source. Shellfish was one of the last additions to the human diet before domesticated plants and animals.

"Knowing how to exploit the sea for food meant these early humans could use coastlines as productive home ranges and move long distances."

How we came 'Out of Africa'

The 'Out of Africa' hypothesis suggests Homo sapiens emerged from Africa in a single migration between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago, from there moving to populate the entire globe. Modern man, characterised by a large, highly-connected brain and with a developed language and culture, first arrived in Asia about 100,000 years ago, then migrated to Australia 50,000 years later. Homo sapiens arrived in Europe 30,000 years ago, before populating the New World (America) about 20,000 years ago. Up to that point, the Americas were uninhibited by humans. Other species of humans, such as Homo erectus and Neanderthals, migrated from Africa much earlier but they became extinct after modern humans arrived in their midst.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect