Artifacts found in a cave on coastal cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean showed that these people 164,000 years ago cooked mussels and other shellfish, used red pigment perhaps as body paint and made small stone blades that could be used at the tip of a spear, all far earlier than previously thought.
"We do not have human fossils from this site, but they were very likely modern humans indigenous to South Africa," Arizona State University anthropologist Curtis Marean
The world was in a glacial period from 195,000 to 125,000 years ago, with much of Africa in cold and dry conditions that may have prompted early humans to find new food sources and expand from inland to coastal habitats, the researchers said.
Marean said that the findings support the idea that on the far southern shore of Africa a small population of modern humans endured this glacial period by expanding their diet to include shellfish, harnessing new technologies, and by using symbolism in their social relations.
Seafood, sun and early man
The earliest previous evidence for people using marine resources and coastal habitats was from 125,000 years ago, the researchers said.
The Pinnacle Point cave site, on the south coast of South Africa, is located near Mossel Bay. The scientists said they found shellfish, including brown mussels, at the site. The presence of a type of barnacle that grows on the skin of whales indicated these people also may have scavenged whales corpses that washed ashore, they said.
Shellfish were among the last additions to the human diet before the debut of domesticated plants and animals, Marean said. Early hunter-gatherer relatives of modern humans for millions of years dined on only land plants and animals, the scientists said.
"It is likely that shellfish was a critical food resource for the survival of this population during this long dry time period, when terrestrial food resources were likely less productive," Marean said.