PICS: Western Cape discovers its own cradle of humankind

2018-03-13 12:30 - Kavitha Pillay
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Left natural cast track showing four toes; 10 cm scale bar (Photo: Charles Helm)

Cape Town - While Gauteng houses the first discoveries of original fossil hominin material, the Western Cape has become the recent focal point of attention regarding prehistoric humankind as 90 000-year-old fossilised hunter-gatherer footprints have been discovered in a cave along the southern Cape coastline.

According to Wesgro, Late Pleistocene Hominin tracks have been found along the Cape South Coast by an international team of researchers led by Dr Charles Helm.

SEE: WATCH: New Homo Naledi secrets revealed, soon to be on display at Maropeng

The Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng - just 45-minutes drive from central Johannesburg in Gauteng - is a fountain of anthropological knowledge, boasting the largest display of original fossil hominin material in history, in an exhibition called ‘Almost Human’.

Now the findings in Western Cape - said to be among the oldest human footprints to be discovered - "could help put the province on the map for visitors interested in our country’s rich heritage," says Wesgro.

Scientific reports published in February 2018 state that "up to forty hominin tracks are evident in the form of natural casts on the ceiling and walls of a ten-metre long cave".

Dr Helm says that the tracks were made about 90 000 years ago by a number of individuals, most likely Homo sapiens, when the shoreline would have been about 2km further out.

“This discovery adds to the sparse global record of early hominin tracks, and represents the largest and best preserved archive of Late Pleistocene hominin tracks found to date,” says Helm.

Heritage tourism

According to Wesgro, its CEO Tim Harris says the discovery is "an opportunity to tell the story of the Cape’s fascinating history, and rich cultural heritage".

"Like the Cradle of Humankind has demonstrated in Gauteng, our country is able to position itself as a must-see destination for those interested in major fossil discoveries. This particular revelation in the Cape can allow us to position ourselves as part of this story, which is of keen interest to both South Africans and foreign travellers," says Harris, adding that the province will be looking at ways to put the Western Cape on the global heritage map.

ALSO SEE: Maropeng Visitors guide: 6 Ideas to make the most of the Cradle of Humankind

Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, says that this fossil discovery places the spotlight on the Western Cape as region of human cognitive development and "justifies the need to establish a Cultural Heritage and Tourism Route that promotes the Western Cape’s archaeological and paleontological heritage".

"The Department will continue to collaborate with scholars in order to promote the discovery of new scientific knowledge about our ancestry and history,” adds Marais.

With SA being a global place of human heritage, Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde says that the discovery "is set to draw travellers to our region who are eager to go back in time to discover the history of our species".

"As part of our Project Khulisa economic strategy, we have set ourselves the goal of boosting jobs and growth through heritage tourism. This new site will no doubt become one of the treasures in our heritage chest,” adds Winde.