Professor Christopher Henshilwood and Dr Karen van Niekerk excavating Blombos Cave. 
  Photo: Magnus Haaland / SapienCE
Professor Christopher Henshilwood and Dr Karen van Niekerk excavating Blombos Cave. 
 Photo: Magnus Haaland / SapienCE

Early human origins on display at Iziko Museum

By Staff Writer Time of article published Apr 4, 2019

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Cape Town – In an international collaboration between two centres of excellence, an exhibition on the origins of early modern humans will be on display at the Iziko Museum this month.

The SFF Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE) at the University of Bergen in Norway, and the Department of Science and Technology’s National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences at Wits, have collaborated in an exhibition that showcases the discovery of early modern human origins and the multitude of innovations that originated in southern Africa.

The Early Sapiens Behaviour - Mother Africa Welcome Home exhibition will be held at the Iziko South African Museum in Gardens from April 17.

The multimedia presentation comprises 16 display panels that include six videos by renowned documentary film-maker Craig Foster.

The exhibition brings to life the extraordinary rich archaeological record of three South African archaeological sites - Blombos Cave, Klasies River and Klipdrift Shelter - while taking the visitor on a multisensory journey of discovery of our common ancestry.

The sites were occupied by early Homo sapiens between 120 000 and 50 000 years ago, a key period in the evolution of modern human behaviour. Archaeological deposits found in the sites have been meticulously dated using the latest technology.

The daily life of early Homo sapiens is recreated on film and the artefacts and objects they made and used have been meticulously replicated.

The videos illustrate the remarkable scientific work of the SapienCE/Wits archaeologists who assisted in the reconstruction of scenes that depict the daily activities of the early human ancestors on this archaeologically rich stretch of the southern African coastline. 

A highlight of the exhibition is the ochre-processing toolkit excavated from the 100 000 years old levels at Blombos Cave near Stilbaai.

This remarkable discovery, found almost perfectly intact, provides the earliest evidence for the manufacture of a red ochre-rich paint that was mixed and stored in the first known containers - abalone shells.

The mixture contains ground red ochre, seal fat and ground bone, charcoal and a liquid. It is the same recipe used in ancient Egypt 2 000 years ago.

The people living in Blombos Cave made beads out of tiny estuarine shells and strung them in various ways to be worn, possibly, as necklaces or pendants. 

They also engraved abstract designs on more than 14 pieces of ochre, some 100 000 years old and made the earliest known drawing, that dates to 73 000 years - an abstract design made with an ochre pencil on a stone flake. 

"This design recently captured the world’s imagination when it was named the world’s first “hashtag”.

These engravings and the drawing are regarded as the first evidence for art. Early Sapiens Behaviour - Mother Africa Welcome Home - can be experienced from April 17 at the Iziko South African Museum. 

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Cape Times

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