Cradle of Human Culture Coastal Journey 

Cradle of Human Culture
Published: January 19th, 2022

The Cradle of Human Culture – The Coastal Journey

Journey with us back in time to The Cradle of Human Culture tracing the origins and development of human culture over the past 100 000 years and uncover the mysteries of what it means to be human. From the ornately decorated ostrich eggs and seashell beads to carefully crafted bone tools and beautifully executed rock art, you will discover humanity’s earliest use of symbolism, art and technology – and find your own roots in the process.

The story of humans began millions of years ago at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in Gauteng in the north of South Africa, but the narrative continues along our coastlines, including the Western Cape and Plettenberg Bay. Here, our earliest ancestors started to harness their spirituality, use fire and tools, and illustrate abstract thought. Here, too, they learnt to adapt their behaviour and diet to their environment.

Cape Town

Cape Town’s story begins with the birth of Table Mountain 800-million years ago and the discovery of human footprints dating back 117 000 years. Today it’s a colourful and harmonious fusion of ethnic diversity. Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden, Stellenbosch The seven-hectare Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden in Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch, is set among lush indigenous vegetation.

The project was born in 2009 when its creator, the artist Dylan Lewis, started shaping the contours of the garden. Since then, he has placed more than 60 sculptures in this beautiful setting – ranging from human and shamanic figures to large abstract works and his iconic big cats. A theme integral to his work includes “the untamed wilderness within the human psyche”, which he expresses through his sculptures and their positioning on the landscape. Visit this serene place by appointment to admire the art, be one with nature and experience a sense of spirituality and transience conveyed by this minimalist space. To arrange a visit, email or call +27 (0)21 880 0054.

Dine with a local, Stellenbosch: The Stellenbosch 360 tourism initiative’s Kayamandi Township Tour and Dine With a Local experience offers visitors to Stellenbosch the chance to dine with locals from different backgrounds and learn about their daily lives, stories, hopes and aspirations. Dip into traditional African or Cape Malay cuisine while enjoying local wines from one of the many local estates surrounding the university town.

Phillipskop Mountain Reserve, Stanford: The 246ha Phillipskop Mountain Reserve lies on the southerly slopes of the Klein River Mountains 10km east of Stanford. This is where you will find Phillipskop Cave, a local rock heritage site. It is set among the reserve’s outcrops made up of hard quartzitic rock, also known as Table Mountain sandstone. This is one of the few sites with rock art paintings in the Overberg region, displaying rare yellow handprints attributed to Khoe herders. Enjoy a day exploring the reserve’s tranquil hiking trails, taking in some impressive rock stacks and a waterfall, before climbing up to the cave to see the ancient rock art and imagine the scene thousands of years ago when our ancestors sheltered here from the rain or sun and immortalised their thoughts and way of life on the cave wall. Access to the reserve is via a 3km dirt road, which is best accessible by vehicles with a higher ground clearance.

Klipgat Cave, De Kelders

Access the two chambers of Klipgat Cave, located a stone’s throw from the seaside village of De Kelders near Gansbaai, via the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, to discover not only the dramatic ocean views through its “windows” and “portal”, but also a visible link to our human ancestors.

Here, archaeologists have uncovered stone artifacts, preserved bone tools and Middle Stone Age human remains dating back between 65 000 and 85 000 years. Evidence of early sheep bones in the caves also show that pastoralists from the Later Stone Age lived in the area about 2 000 years ago. Detailed explanations at the site will lead you through the lives of our ancestors from the Middle Stone Age through the Later Stone Age.

Waenhuiskrans Cave

Continue your exploration through The Cradle of Human Culture at the picturesque seaside town of Waenhuiskrans, also known as Arniston, about 25km from Bredasdorp. Here, discover – though only at low tide! – the massive limestone Waenhuiskrans Cave, falling within the Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve. The effort to get there, walking along the beach and scampering up some rocks, is worth it for the incredible views, even though there have been no major archaeological finds in the cave.

Tidal fish traps, Stilbaai

At Stilbaai, more than 20 ancient stone-walled fish traps represent the technological evolution of early fishing practices in the area. The traps have been declared a National Heritage Site and they are now falling within a Marine Protected Area. They illustrate a common fishing method along the Southern Cape coast that endured through the ages.

Blombos Cave, Stilbaai

At Blombos Cave, researchers have found unquestionable proof of Homo sapiens – or “modern human beings”. The excavations at the world-famous archaeological Blombos Cave site, overlooking the sea, have yielded many important riches. Other findings include a piece of ochre engraved with a pattern and believed to be 75 000 years old, which was the first known ochre engraving found in the archaeological records. Archaeologists at the site also uncovered what has been called “the oldest artist’s toolkit” a 100,000-Year-Old Ochre-Processing Workshop. Archaeologists discovered two abalone shell containing an ochre-rich mixture which may have been used for decoration or skin protection. Researchers have found that successive colonies of hunter gatherers lived in the small cave, hunting, fishing and gathering seafood; that they painted their bodies; and that they created abstract symbols. The first known drawing was found here as well, a silcrete flake with a hatched cross pattern drawn on it with ochre.

Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay

Step back in time and imagine the lifestyle of the Middle Stone Age people who lived at Pinnacle Point, a Provincial Heritage Site south of Mossel Bay on the Garden Route, between 170 000 and 40 000 years ago.An international team of researchers have found some of the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour at this picturesque spot. Excavations in the various caves at Pinnacle Point have showed that early man exploited shellfish resources as part of their diet, applied heat to rock to make stone tools; and made ochre pigment. These discoveries, and many more, have contradicted scientists’ earlier beliefs that modern human behaviour only emerged around 40 000 years ago. Plan and book a Point of Human Origins Experience tour – only by appointment – to gain profound insight not only into the discoveries at the site, but to reflect on where we came from, consider who we are now – and where we are heading as the human race.

Cape St Blaize Cave, Mossel Bay

The cave at Cape St Blaiz, below the lighthouse, is the site of some of South Africa’s first archaeological excavations. More recently, parts of the cave were explored by scientists as part of the major Mossel Bay Archaeology Project. Containing deposits dating back to the Middle Stone Age, the cave has – like those at Pinnacle Point and Blombos – yielded evidence for ancient exploitation of marine resources such as shellfish; some of the earliest evidence of using pigments and symbolism; and proof that early humans used heat to make stone tools. Pause your road trip here to see the cave for yourself, and pause to consider this: genetic research has shown that all people alive today stem from a core population of about 600 humans who lived about 165 000 years ago. The evidence suggest that these early ancestors lived here, in the Mossel Bay area, in the Western Cape’s Cradle of Human Culture. Dine with locals, George Book a two-hour Dine with a Local experience through the George Tourism office to share a home-cooked meal with locals and enjoy music, poetry or dancing together. Share our common humanity as it has been shaped for tens of thousands of years as you feast on anything from traditional African dishes to Cape Malay food, depending on your hosts, at the same time supporting this newly launched local development project.

Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn

Recent archaeological finds have shown that humans lived and sheltered in the Cango Caves for at least 80 000 years. A beautiful exhibition on the first floor of the interpretation centre explains how humans evolved from the origin of times to today. It describes the significance of the archaeological sites in the area and illustrates some of the powerful rock art found nearby. It was originally thought that the caves extended for only about a kilometre, but new evidence shows that they extend for well over 5km.

Nelson Bay Cave is part of The Cradle of Human Culture coastal route
Nelson Bay Cave is part of The Cradle of Human Culture coastal route

Nelson Bay Cave, Plettenberg Bay

Make your way to the scenic coastal holiday town of Plettenberg Bay to track some more fascinating Stone Age cave discoveries at Nelson Bay in the spectacular Robberg Nature Reserve, jutting 1.8km out into the sea. Scientists have found that humans occupied this area – declared a World Heritage Site as part of the Cape Floral Region – as far back as 125 000 years ago. Nelson Bay cave was first excavated in the 1960s, and the results showed that the diet of the early humans who lived here comprised food ranging from birds, eggs and plants to shellfish, as well as seals and bush pigs, with the remains dating back to about 5 000 years, resulting in large middens. Artefacts ranging from Stone Age tools to 2 000-year-old pottery, graves containing human remains in a foetal position and decorated with shells and ochre, and many more cultural riches have been found in the cave. Access the site from inside the nature reserve, about 8km from the town – and set aside enough time to explore the cave and its beautiful surroundings.

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