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Did seafood encourage 'Out of Africa' trips?
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Newsgroup: sci.archaeology
Posted by: Jack Linthicum
2007-10-17 19:04:35

Curtis Marean of Arizona State University led a team that sifted
through a South African cave's walls and floor and found remains of
hearths, of some two dozen shellfish, mainly brown mussels, as well as
57 pieces of ochre pigment, some of them brilliant red, and nearly
three dozen "bladelets", or tiny tools made of chipped stone.

The find has been dated to around 164 000 years ago, give or take 12
000 years, according to their paper, which appears on Thursday in the
British weekly journal Nature.

More on the use of haematite, red ochre, as decoration and an
adhesive.

Did seafood encourage 'Out of Africa' trips?

October 17 2007 at 10:28AM

By Richard Ingham

Paris - Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest known remains of
human habitation by the coast, a finding that may explain how humans
ventured beyond Africa at the start of their planetary odyssey.

Mussel shells, sharpened pieces of red ochre and stone micro-tools
found in a sea cave in South Africa suggest that Homo sapiens headed
for the beach quite soon after emerging from the savannah, they say.

By stumbling upon the rich harvest of the sea, Man found the means to
explore beyond Africa, sustaining himself through maritime edibles by
probing along the coast, they suggest.

Until now, the earliest evidence of human settlement by the coast
dates from 120 000 years ago - about 80 000 years after the
approximate time when, according to fossil evidence, H. sapiens arose
in the grasslands of East Africa.

Experts have long suspected that coastal migration must have occurred
earlier than this.

The problem, though, has been finding proof to back this belief.

Turn the clock back to an era between 195,000 and 135,000 years ago,
and you will find Earth in the grip of an Ice Age.

So much water was locked up in glaciers that the sea level was as much
as 125 metres lower than today. When the glaciers eventually
retreated, the sea rose once more, swamping coastlines and sweeping
away the traces of habitation.

One remarkable location that survived, though, was a cave overlooking
the Indian Ocean in coastal cliffs at Pinnacle Point, near South
Africa's Mossel Bay.

The cave is so high that, even now, it is 15 metres above the sea. At
the time when it was inhabited, it was located within five to 10
kilometres of the coast.

Curtis Marean of Arizona State University led a team that sifted
through the cave's walls and floor and found remains of hearths, of
some two dozen shellfish, mainly brown mussels, as well as 57 pieces
of ochre pigment, some of them brilliant red, and nearly three dozen
"bladelets", or tiny tools made of chipped stone.

The find has been dated to around 164 000 years ago, give or take 12
000 years, according to their paper, which appears on Thursday in the
British weekly journal Nature.

Marean believes the discovery opens a door to understanding the
movements of our early forebears.

During the long glacial period, southern Africa was cooler and drier,
and hunter-gatherers probably found it hard to get food from animals,
fruits and berries, he says.

Moving to the coast thus opened up a whole new larder of food.

"Shellfish may have been a critical food source to the survival of
human populations when they were faced with depressed terrestrial
productivity during glacial stages... when much of southern Africa was
more arid and populations were isolated and perhaps concentrated on
now-submerged coastal platforms," the study says.

Seafood was the biggest shift in the human diet until animal farming
began at the end of the last Ice Age, roughly 11 000 years ago, it
contends.

Once humans realised the bounty of food that lay within their grasp,
they could use it for sustenance as they moved out of Africa, along
the coast of the Red Sea and northwards into the Middle East and
beyond, as the species embarked on its trek around the world.

Humans expanded into southern Asia along the coast and also island-
hopped their way to Australia and New Guinea using coastal food
resources.

In a commentary, also published by Nature, anthropologist Sally
McBrearty of the University of Connecticut and palaeontologist Chris
Stringer of London's Natural History Museum say the pigment is an
equally exciting find.

This substance, also called haematite, has some practical use as an
adhesive.

However, the brilliant red colours that feature in the find suggest it
was also used for decorating the body or objects, given that red has
always played a key role in human rite and society.

"It suggests that early humans in Africa inhabited a cognitive world
enriched by symbols before 160 000 years ago," the pair say. - Sapa-
AFP

http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=nw20071017073334241C545814

 

 

 

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