By Steve ConnorScience Editor
Primitive humans who inhabited the coast of South Africa 165,000 years ago and lived on a diet rich in shellfish could be the original ancestors of everyone alive today, a study suggests.
The people who lived in high caves at Pinnacle Point, overlooking the Indian Ocean near Mossel Bay, harvested and cooked mussels, used red pigment from ground rocks as a form of make-up and made tiny, bladed tools. Experts say they are very likely to be the ancestors of Homo sapiens, the anatomically modern human species which migrated across the world.
It is known that Homo sapiens evolved in Africa between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago but scientists are not sure where on the continent they first arose as a distinct species. The latest evidence points to the southern tip of Africa. Archaeologists working at Pinnacle Point identified stone tools and a red pigment used in ritualistic ceremonies which they believe could only have been used by humans showing "modern behaviour".
The coastal community knew how to exploit the protein-rich food source of the sea and could have used this ability to migrate north by gradually foraging further along the coast, possibly continuing outward migration from Africa with the help of beachcombing.
"It is possible that this population could be the progenitor population for all modern humans," said Professor Curtis Marean, a palaeo-anthropologist at Arizona State University, who led the study published in the journal Nature.
"There was no point in living in a coastal environment unless they were able to eat shellfish and, even in the harshest environment, it is still possible to travel along the coastline and still have access to food."
The dig at Pinnacle Point unearthed the remnants of charred shellfish, intermingled with fine stone tools and ochre pigment, which has been linked with the expression of symbolic behaviour - such as burial ceremonies - in early humans. The tools included small "bladelets" which would have been attached to sticks to form a pointed spear, or lined up like barbs on a dart. …