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Exhibition: Origins of Sapiens Behaviour

When: Thursday, 10 May 2018 - Friday, 31 August 2018
Where: Off campus
Spier Wine Farm, R310 Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch, 7603
Start time:9:00


The Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute and University of Bergen's SFF Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour have collaborated on "Origins of Sapiens Behaviour".

The Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits in collaboration with the SFF Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE) at the University of Bergen, Norway, have developed an installation of an exhibition, Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour.

Curated by Petro Keene, Craig Foster and Jos Thorne, the exhibition is on from 10 May to 31 August 2018 at the Spier Wine Farm, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa.

It is part of a broader museum exhibition and education programme to be established at the De Hoop Nature Reserve in 2019. 

Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour showcases 25 years of archaeological research in the southern Cape, undertaken by Professor Christopher Henshilwood and Dr Karen van Niekerk and their research team at Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter.

Henshilwood is Distinguished Professor and South African NRF SARChI Chair in Modern Human Origins at the ESI at Wits. He is also director of a Research Council of Norway funded 10 year Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE) at the University of Bergen, Norway.

 Origins of Sapiens Behaviour is an exhibition at Spier Wine Farm, Stellenbosch

Displays of the Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour have been designed to explore key aspects of archaeological research linked to our human origins and innovations and they illustrate the rich archaeological record of the southern coast of South Africa. 

Themes focus on and explore the concept of ‘we are all one’. This enables the viewer to engage with the knowledge that Homo sapiens originated from the continent of Africa and promotes an understanding of our common ancestry. 

Daily life of Homo sapiens captured on film

Artefacts have been finely replicated and displayed to highlight the fascinating discoveries from the Blombos Cave and the Klipdrift Shelter sites. These comprise 16 display panels including four videos by the filmmaker, Craig Foster.

The videos illustrate the remarkable scientific work of archaeologists and recreate scenes of the daily activities of our early human ancestors, Homo sapiens, who lived in caves along the southern coast of South Africa over 160 000 years ago.

One of the many exciting finds presented is a 100 000-year-old ochre-processing toolkit from Blombos Cave. This find is evidence of the manufacture of red ochre-rich paint that was mixed and stored in the first known containers, abalone shells. The people living in the cave made beads out of tiny estuarine shells, engraved abstract designs on ochre and created intricate stone and bone points.

In the De Hoop Nature Reserve at Klipdrift Shelter, more than 100 deliberately engraved ostrich eggshell fragments were recovered in layers that date from 65 000 to 59 000 years ago. These artefacts provide evidence for early complex behaviour and the capacity for symbolic thought.

Origins of Early Sapiens Behavior showcases replicated engraved eggshell fragments and engraved ostrich egg water flasks as well as replicas of finely crafted stone tools. These are among the earliest remnants of hunting tools and evidence of a highly sophisticated and technologically minded people.

Current genetic evidence and a ‘people’s history’ is portrayed at the Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour exhibition to educate learners and visitors about their past and instil a sense of pride in our common African origins. Thus, the experience of learning about our early ancestors is enhanced by the ‘power of place’ – by being situated within the very area in which they once thrived.

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