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Tuesday Jun 12, 2012

Bid for heritage status for key Mossel Bay site

Mossel Bay's famous Pinnacle Point Caves, where the earliest evidence of man surviving on marine life and engaging in symbolic human behaviour such as making tools was discovered, will be included in an application for World Heritage status.

Mossel Bay municipality at the weekend said it was committed to constructing an interpretive centre for the caves should the site gain prestigious World Heritage status.

The application, co-ordinated by Heritage Western Cape, will include significant archaeological sites along the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

Professor Curtis Marean of Arizona State University and his team of archaeologists have over 12 years found evidence that early man lived in the Pinnacle Point caves between 170 000 and 40 000 years ago.

The team's excavations revealed that early man ate the abundant shellfish and treated rocks with heat to make tools at Pinnacle Point some 50 000 to 70 000 years earlier than had been believed.

Harsh climate conditions accompanying the ice age between 195 000 and 125 000 years ago nearly extinguished man, but archaeologists have found evidence that between 400 and 700 people survived in Mossel Bay and the coastline to the west by eating shellfish, roots and seeds.

Marean, giving a lecture to the Nobel Scientific Conference on his findings, said his team's discoveries suggested that this small population "gave rise to all humans alive today".

The shellfish diet, rich in omega three and omega six fatty acids, also played a significant role in enlarging the brain and man's intelligence.

The SA World Heritage Convention Committee recently met in Mossel Bay to visit both Cave 13B with Marean and an old stone quarry at the Point, where the municipality plans to build the interpretive centre. The centre will be home to informational displays and artefacts from the caves.

While it could take up to five years or more to obtain World Heritage status, plans are also afoot for the caves to be declared provincial and later national heritage sites.

Cape Argus

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