South Africa has long been considered the ‘cradle of humankind’ – where anatomically modern humans first began to exist. Now, archaeologists have discovered where early humans first began to thrive – in a region now submerged beneath the ocean.
The area has been dubbed the Paleo-Agulhas Plain on the very southern tip of Africa and would have been roughly the size of Ireland.
Going back 11,500 years, Earth was in the midst of an ice age, meaning much of the planet’s water was trapped in glaciers closer to the North and South Poles.
This means sea levels were much lower and more land on South Africa, and indeed many places around the planet was exposed.
By reconstructing the conditions of the then coastline by analysing modern vegetation along the Cape south coast, archaeologists have been able to piece together early humankind’s existence.
A statement from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), explained: “Vegetation was reconstructed based on a model of the ancient climate and fire patterns of these glacial phases that define human evolution.
“The group developed the vegetation model based on present-day patterns and environmental conditions, compared their model to an independently derived vegetation map to validate it, then applied it to the climate, landforms, and soils reconstructed for the peak of the last ice age on the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain.
“This savanna-like vegetation is rare in the modern landscape and would have supported the megafauna typical of glacial periods.
“These game animals, found in the archaeological record, include a great diversity of grazing animals, including the now-extinct giant Cape Buffalo, and others of which no longer occur naturally in this part of Africa, such as giraffes.
“The Paleo-Agulhas plain had extremely high plant species diversity, as well as a greater variety of ecosystems and plant communities than currently found in this region, including shale grassland with dune fynbos-thicket mosaic on uplands and broad and shallow floodplains supporting a mosaic of woodland and grassland on fertile, alluvial soils.”
What perhaps is most surprising from the Cradle of Humankind along South Africa’s coast is the lack of evidence of shellfish remains – something which should be present for a coastal-based group of humans.
This suggests humans would head inland to find larger animals to feast on.
Janet Franklin, a professor of biogeography in the department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UCR, said: “These Pleistocene glacial periods would have presented a very different resource landscape for early modern human hunter-gatherers than the landscape found in modern Cape coastal lowlands, and may have been instrumental in shaping the evolution of early modern humans.”
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In September 2015, scientists announced the discovery of a previously unknown Homo species called Homo naledi in a cave in South Africa.
The beings were discovered 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa.
With a brain the size of an orange, a slender body, ape-like shoulders and feet almost identical to humans, the skeleton provides a unique insight into our human past.
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