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6 August 2011
An early understanding of tides

Those of you who live near the sea or the ocean will understand the importance of knowing your local tide timetable, with most of us using a booklet listing the low and high tides. But imagine yourself in the Stone Age, how would you cope? It has long been thought that our human ancestors did not develop complex and abstract thought processes until approximately 50,000 years ago. An archaeologist from Arizona State University (USA), Curtis Marean, is about to blow that theory apart. His team have been working in caves along the southern coastline of South Africa, in an area known as Pinnacle Point, with astounding results.
     Their work had initially centred around a cave which had shown signs of occupation from approximately 162,000 BCE. At that time the sea levels were lower and the cave would have been between two and five kilometrers from the waters edge. Evidence of shellfish, such as brown mussels and sea snails have been found in the cave, dated at approximately 162,000 BCE, together with limpets ans sand mussels dated around 108,000 BCE, most of which could only have been harvested at some of the lowest tides, leading to the conclusion that these early fishermen had a rudimentary knowledge of the phases of the moon.
     The early harvesting of these shellfish would have had a cumulative effect on the development of these early cave dwellers as they were protein rish and high in omega-3 fatty acids, well known as a vital ingredient for brain development. Curtis Marean goes one step further and believes that they progressed from living and eating for the day to harvesting shellfish for storage. Extrapolating this theory further, it may have given the edge to those early Homo Sapiens when they first migrated to Europe and met the Neanderthals. Evidence shows that early Homo Sapiens caves around the fringes of the Mediterranean Sea contain the remains of shellfish, whereas Neanderthal caves do not, suggesting they still lived for the day and were not able to plan where the next meal came from.
     Curtis Marean and his team are a long way from proving their hypothesis and they have now expanded their investigations to the eastern coast.

Edited from ScienceNews (13 August 2011)

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