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A new exhibition has been launched at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, celebrating research that suggests that the intellectual evolution of humans happened on the coast between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The research has been done by the South African Coastal Palaeoclimate, Palaeoenvironment,  Palaeoecology, and Palaeoanthropology (SACP4) project.

Most people already know that South Africa is the Cradle of Humankind.

Research conducted by the SACP4 project suggests that in addition to this, modern humans originated along the Cape coast.

Essentially, it is hypothesised that the intellectual evolution of modern humans happened in and around the Pinnacle Point caves near Mossel Bay in the Western Cape.

Professor Richard Cowling, Director of Centre for Coastal Paeleosciences at NMMU, says, “All the evidence indicates that modern humans emerged on this Cape Coast. Now at that time, the world was in the midst of a big Ice-Age, but down here the climate remained sufficiently warm and there were enough resources - shellfish, big game - that enabled humans to survive but they had to get smart to do it, and this is where we wired our brains and got smart.”

These ground-breaking findings are now being showcased in a unique exhibition at NMMU titled the "Point of Human Origin". The exhibition is open to the public, and is located in the university's exhibition and archives centre on its Second Avenue Campus.

Professor Cowling explains the significance of the exhibition, "What we want to do is really share our research findings with the general public because we think this is an exciting story, and it's sitting in boring scientific papers. But also it's the beginnings of an initiative for NMMU and South Africa to begin to take ownership of this research.”

The exhibition was launched at a closed event, and the head of the SACP4 project Professor Curtis Marean from Arizona State University was in attendance. Professor Marean explained the research conducted to invited guests. He says that Pinnacle Point was in the process of being declared a World Heritage Site.

 “We've hypothesised that the origin population evolved here and eventually spread throughout Africa and then ultimately throughout the rest of the world. The cradle is a World Heritage Site and we're writing now a World Heritage application for the modern human origin site and that looks like it's going to happen. We're in the phase now where the environmental impact plans are being written.”

Designer and Creator of the exhibition Marvin Carstens explains what the public can expect to see when visiting the exhibition.

“You're just going to see vast explanations about the environment of the time of the people who were living in these caves. There are artefacts based on the evidence they found in the stratigraphy of the rock with inside the cave in the actual sedimentary deposits. And you'll see a reproduction of the cave itself, and then an image on the wall showing what it looks like now when you're standing in the cave looking out towards the ocean but at the time that the people were living there which is thousands of years ago, there was actually a plain going ahead of you before you got to the ocean.”

The exhibition is open from 9am to 4pm on Mondays to Fridays, and will remain on Second Avenue Campus the whole year. With universities often criticised for not providing enough public access to research findings, this is exhibition is sure to impress and inform.

Contact information
Ms Christelle Grobler
Curator: Archive and Exhibition Centre
Tel: 27 41 504 2750
Christelle.Grobler
@nmmu.ac.za