Discovery in the Kalahari desert leads to a review of human origin

Discovery in the Kalahari desert leads to a review of human origin
Discovery in the Kalahari desert leads to a review of human origin

Archaeological excavations at Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter, where the first evidence of complex Homo sapiens behavior has been recovered. Credit: Jayne Wilkins

Archaeological evidence in a rocky shelter on the edge of the Kalahari desert in South Africa is challenging the idea that origins of our species were linked to coastal environments. An article about this study was published in the “Nature” magazine.

An international team led by Dr. Jayne Wilkins, from the Australian Research Center for Human Evolution at Griffith University (Australia), found evidence far from coastal locations of the complex symbolic and technological behaviors that define modern humans, going back 105 thousand years.

“Our discoveries in this rocky shelter show that overly simplified models for the origins of our species are no longer acceptable. The evidence suggests that many regions on the African continent were involved, with Kalahari being only one of them, ”said Wilkins.

Distance from the coast

“The archaeological evidence from the first homo sapiens have been widely discovered in places coastal from South Africa, supporting the idea that our origins were linked to coastal environments ”, she continued. “Few well-preserved and datable archaeological sites within Southern Africa can tell us about the origins of homo sapiens off the coast. A rocky shelter on Mount Ga-Mohana that sits above a vast savanna in Kalahari is one such place. ”

The rocky shelter is used today for ritual activities by the local community. Archaeological research has revealed a long history of a place of spiritual significance.

The researchers excavated 22 crystals of white calcite and fragments of ostrich eggshell, used as water containers, from deposits dated 105,000 years ago at the site called Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter. At that time, this environment was much more humid than today.

Archaeological site in a rocky shelter in the Kalahari desert: more than 100,000 years ago, people used the so-called Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter for spiritual activities. Credit: Jayne Wilkins
Spiritual or cultural use

“Our analysis indicates that the crystals were not introduced into the deposits through natural processes, but were deliberately collected objects, probably linked to spiritual and ritual beliefs,” said Wilkins.

“The crystals point to the spiritual or cultural use of the shelter 105,000 years ago,” said dr. Sechaba Maape, from the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa). “This is remarkable, considering that the site continues to be used for the practice of ritual activities today.”

The researchers were delighted to discover that the set of crystals collected by humans and fragments of ostrich eggshells on Mount Ga-Mohana were significantly older than that reported indoors elsewhere.

“In coastal locations, the first evidence for these types of behavior goes back to the same time, 105,000 years ago,” said Wilkins. “This suggests that Kalahari’s early humans were no less innovative than those on the coast.”

Minimized impact

The chronology of Ga-Mohana North Rockshelter was determined by the research team using luminescence dating.

“This technique measures the signs of natural light that accumulate over time in the sedimentary grains of quartz and feldspar,” said Dr. Michael Meyer, University of Innsbruck (Austria). “You can think of each grain as a miniaturized watch. From it we can read this natural light or luminescence signal, giving us the age of the archaeological sediment layers. ”

Due to the continuing spiritual significance of Mount Ga-Mohana, researchers are aware of minimizing its impact on the use of rock shelter by local communities after each season.

“Not leaving visible traces and working with the local community is fundamental to the project’s sustainability,” said Wilkins. “So that Mount Ga-Mohana can continue to provide new knowledge about the origins and evolution of the homo sapiens no Kalahari.”

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