Motoring toward the Motherland

Tomorrow, bright and early, I am headed for the South African shore. For me, unlike (what might be) my distant relatives, this journey is not a matter of survival (but to attend WIOMSA in Durban). Last week, an article in Nature showed that Homo sapiens developed a taste for brown mussels, giant periwinkles and whelks along the craggy South African coast at least 164,000 years ago. The New York Times has an abridged (and free!) version here.

This is interesting for so many reasons but here are the big ones:

1) Until now, we only knew that the consumption of seafood by early hominids began at least 125,000 years ago, as evidenced by the shells of oysters, giant clams, and crustaceans and stone tools found uncovered on the shores of what is now Eritrea (published in Nature by Walter et al., 2000). Our northern brothers from another mother, the Neanderthals, were cooking shellfish in Italy about 110,000 years ago.

2) This group of South Africans might have migrated to the coast to escape the cold as climate change swept the continent.

3) Evidence for very early modern behavior in technology, creativity, symbolic thinking and lifestyles is sparse and, until recently, anthropologists believed modern behavior rose around 45,000 years ago (read Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn to thoroughly digest this topic).

4) Last, but not least, "It is possible that this population could be the progenitor population for all modern humans."

Dang. So, it's possible I will be motoring toward the Motherland.

Mossel Bay--where early Homo sapiens were shellfishing for survival.

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Have fun, be careful, and watch out for Great Whites!

A seashore settlement always raises the question of what lies hidden under water. The sea levels rose after the Ice Age when the water locked up in glasiers melted. It seems more than likely that the main settlement is now submerged. Now that the location along the waterfront is fixed, it's time to do some diving near it.

By Lassi Hippel�inen (not verified) on 20 Oct 2007 #permalink