The Point of Human Origins experience Mossel Bay, Garden Route, South Africa

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The Pinnacle Point Caves have revealed the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour – including the earliest use of ochre for colouring and symboling – and they’re now accessible to groups of up to twelve people.

 “We know from mitochondrial DNA research that all humans alive today stem from a core population that lived between 150 and 200 thousand years ago,” said Dr Peter Nilssen. “International research into the contents of the caves – which is led by Professor Curtis Marean of the School of Human Origins at Arizona State University – now shows that many of them probably lived in the Mossel Bay area.”

Modern human behaviour began when we began systematically harvesting the seashore, inserting bladelets into other strata to create complex tools, using heat to improve the quality of our stone tools – and using ochre for cultural purposes.

 The archaeology of the Pinnacle Point Caves has drawn international interest – and the demand for tours of the caves has been enormous. This has prompted a group of interested parties – including Heritage Western Cape, the South African Heritage Resources Agency, the scientist of the SACP4 Project (under Prof. Marean), the Pinnacle Point Homeowners Association – to collaborate to make them accessible to the public.

 Mossel Bay’s Oystercatcher Trail arranges the 4-hour, scheduled departure excursions. Tours are limited to 12 guests, are lead by qualified guides, and include Dr. Nilssen’s lecture on the significance of the finds.

The Point of Human Origins experience (POHO) is kept fresh and exciting because we tailor each visit according to the personalities and interests of participants. You will be involved not only in the direction and depth to which each POHO experience takes you, but also in your contribution to the conservation of humanity’s cultural heritage. The POHO experience involves a PowerPoint presentation and tour to the caves at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay.

It is emphasized that the walk to the caves includes a wooden walkway and nearly 200 steps that requires a moderate level of fitness for the return trip to the Club House. Comfortable walking shoes are a must and don’t forget your camera! The duration of your POHO experience is up to you, but to a maximum of around 4 hours. The structure of the Point of Human Origins (POHO) experience is roughly as follows:

  • You will self-drive and meet a POHO representative/guide at the Pinnacle Point reception building from where you will be accompanied to the Club House that is situated above the world renowned archaeological cave sites
  • You will meet Dr Peter Nilssen who originally made the archaeological discovery and who, with Prof Curtis Marean, initiated the research into the origins of modern humans which is still ongoing under the direction of Prof Marean
  • Then Dr Nilssen gives an interactive PowerPoint presentation that is partly directed by participants, but covers the following topics;
    •  Time Line – Stone Ages
    • Background & Archaeology at Pinnacle Point
    • Sea Levels, Cave Formation & Archaeological Deposits
    • Excavations
    •  Archaeology of Modern Humans
    • Where & when did modern human behaviour emerge?
  • Depending on participants, the talk and discussions may take anything from 1 to 2 hours
  •  Light meals and drinks are available from a 5 star “cash bar”.
  • You then accompany Dr Nilssen to Cave 13B – not currently under excavation – where you will stand at the point on Earth where the earliest evidence for the origins of modern human-behaviour was discovered

  • Cave 13B is a globally significant archaeological site in the process of being nominated both a National and a World Heritage Site. The cave is situated in a spectacular, rugged Table Mountain sandstone cliff and about 13 meters above a dramatic and dynamic intertidal zone. Here you will experience the awe of standing at the Point of Human Origins
  • Along the way you will be shown the cause for the presence of fossil bone and shell in the archaeological cave sites, evidence of ancient and changing landscapes, cave formation processes, remnants of fossil dunes, speleothems, archaeological sediments and artefacts, the importance of conservation and more
  • Depending on participants, the cave visit itself may take anything from half an hour to 2 hours
  • You will then return to the Pinnacle Point Club House where you may wish to relax and enjoy the breath-taking, 360° panoramic view with a delicious, affordable meal, coffee, drink etc. before you hit the road
  • You will be transported to the Pinnacle Point Reception from where you will depart with a new or refreshed sense of what it means to be human

More information:

Also visit the Great Brak River Museum at S34°02.425′ E022°13.084′ to experience their exhibition on early humans in this area.

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