The recent discovery of micro blades, made by early modern humans at South Africa’s Pinnacle Point cave system, is remarkable for 2 reasons.
Firstly, the fact that the tiny tools were made from stones heated over a fire suggests a sophisticated tool making industry which involved gathering raw materials, processing them and crafting them into advanced (at least compared to Neanderthal finds) projectile weapons. This takes intelligence, organisation, communication and practical skill.
Secondly, and more strikingly, the blades were found in layers of this particular cave’s sand and soil spanning 60,000 – 71,000 years ago. In other words, the cave had been occupied by human beings for 11,000 years. ELEVEN THOUSAND YEARS!
The last 11,000 years have encompassed all of our civilised accomplishments as a species, from the start of farming to landing on the moon; 11,000 years ago the world was just emerging from the Ice Age, America was still connected to Asia, and Britain was still connected to mainland Europe. That same unfathomable period of time was spent by 500 generations of one family (mathematically, they HAD to be related) in one dwelling.
Only a cave could offer this sort of durability. Most man-made dwellings rarely last over 200 years. Only very exceptional houses, such as Kirkjubøargarður and Saltford Manor, reach 1,000 years – and I suspect even these bear little resemblance to the original structures (a bit like the old mop which in its lifetime has had 3 new heads and 2 new handles). As any homeowner knows, from the moment a house is built, nature tries to pull it down – either violently, by storm and flood, or relentlessly slowly, by dripping water and strangling vegetation. Human beings themselves may occasionally intervene with fire, artillery shells, and wrecking balls.
But the Pinnacle Point cave was home for at least 11 millennia – and probably much, much longer. The cave system has revealed evidence of Middle Stone Age people ranging from 164,000 to 40,000 years ago. Whether it was occupied continuously over this time or not we will probably never know – it presumably depends on whether it was variously ocean front or miles inland, depending on fluctuating sea levels. But today it certainly seems like a nice spot – providing the weather is clement – overlooking the Indian Ocean on the Southern Cape of South Africa. You can imagine a small, isolated, community living out their lives there, surviving threats to life and limb, passing on their innovative ideas, skills and culture down countless generations – biding their time until the moment came to start exploring.