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Thursday Jan 10, 2013

New heritage site under Pinnacle Point golf development

The Western Cape has a new provincial heritage site: a series of coastal caves at Pinnacle Point on the southern Cape coast near Mossel Bay that contain archaeological artefacts and other physical evidence critically important to the understanding of how and when fully modern humans evolved.

A view of the sea and a staircase leading up to Cave 13B at Pinnacle Point.

Several of these caves were occupied by Stone Age people between about 165 000 and 50 000 years ago - the era in which scientists believe humans developed the intellectual capacity that characterises modern people and when they started developing technologies that were key to allowing them to migrate out of Africa.

The new site was declared in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act and was proclaimed last month in the final Western Cape Government Provincial Gazette of 2012.

An application to have Pinnacle Point, one of only three African sites containing artefacts of human occupation older than 120 000 years, also proclaimed as a national heritage site is expected to be made soon, and it is one of six South African sites making up a proposed nomination for recognition as a World Heritage Site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Several of the most significant caves occur in the sea cliffs below the Pinnacle Point golf estate and, several years ago, water seeping into them from the golf course destroyed some of their priceless archaeological assets.

In May 2008 the Wildlife & Environment Society of SA (Wessa) unsuccessfully attempted to get an urgent high court interdict to force the then resorts company, Pinnacle Point Resorts, to stop irrigating sites on the golf course to prevent further damage.

US scientist Professor Curtis Marean of Arizona University's Institute of Human Origins who is leading the comprehensive research project at Pinnacle Point - he heads the multi- representative SA Coastal Palaeoclimate, Palaeoenvironment, Palaeoecology, and Palaeoanthropology (SACP4) Project - said in an affidavit filed as part of Wessa's application that the caves provided some of the earliest evidence of modern human behaviour.

"With its astonishingly rich set of caves and rock shelters, Pinnacle Point is easily one of the most significant archaeological localities in the world. I do not know of an equally rich concentration of sites anywhere," he said.

"In my opinion there is ongoing damage (from the golf course irrigation) to the archaeological sites, and likely to be severe damage the longer water is allowed to flow into the caves and shelters... In my opinion, the only sure solution to the ongoing damage is to stop all irrigation."

Judge Anton Veldhuizen dismissed Wessa's application, but the resorts company went bust and the homeowners' association took over and negotiated with the heritage community.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of Heritage Western Cape that has statutory oversight responsibility for Pinnacle Point, said yesterday that all the problems with the golf course had been resolved.

Carl van der Linde, chief executive of the Pinnacle Point Homeowners Association, described the heritage declaration as "great news for Mossel Bay and Pinnacle Point".

While none of the sites was currently accessible to the public, they were working with the scientists to develop science-based tours, he said.

Cape Argus

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