Pinnacle Point Caves are threatened by runoff and no one is doing anything about it!

John Hawks blogged about a very real threat to the rich caves at Pinnacle Point near Mossel Bay, South Africa. See the run off from the Pinnacle Point Golf and Country Club is leaking into the caves and will affect the soil chemistry and dating. The problems are outlined in more depth in this news bit, published in the latest issue of Science, “Runoff Threatens Early Human Site.”

The caves at Pinnacle Point are pretty remarkable sites. Just this past year we read how important they are in a Nature paper, which outlined early humans harvested food from the sea, employed complex bladelet tools and used red pigments in symbolic behavior 164,000 years ago. This research behind this paper, “Early human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene,” was lead by Curtis Marean, pictured to the right.

Kris Hirst, of put up an informative breakdown on one of the caves at Pinnacle Point, PP13B.

“The oldest level, dated by OSL to 164,000 years ago, includes both Levallois and bladelet (Howiesons Poort-like) technologies, and 57 pieces of pigment (red ochre). Ten of the pieces were definitely used (ground or scraped). The faunal assemblage is limited to shellfish, collected primarily from nearby tidal pools.

If the 164,000 year old date proves correct, Pinnacle Point represents the oldest known use of shellfish and an early use of ochre. Most interesting are the bladelet technologies–Howiesons Poort are dated to ca 70,000 years old; the Pinnacle Point assemblage is not Howiesons Poort, but shares some technological characteristics. All of these features indicate a sophisticated level of human behaviors thought until recently to have been associated with the Upper Paleolithic.”

A judge recently declined to protect the archaeological site. I hope the $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Human Origins program that Marean secured will factor in some level of conservation effort, or emergency recovery before anymore damage is done.

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