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One of the first things many kids—or even adults—may do when they are on a beach or dune is to make patterns in the sand, or sculptures in the form of sandcastles.
Many generations of humans have enjoyed these activities. But until now there has been no reported evidence to suggest how far back in human history this may have occurred. Now my colleagues and I believe we may have found such evidence at sites along South Africa's Cape south coast.
Southern - Africa - Record - Palaeo-art - South
Southern Africa boasts an extensive record of palaeo-art, and South Africa's Cape south coast, stretching eastward along the coast from Cape Town, contains one of the richest Middle Stone Age archaeological records in the world. This includes an engraved piece of ochre and the oldest reported example of rock painting. Evidence suggests that the area may have been critical to the survival of the human species.
This coastal region now contains extensive aeolianites (cemented dune deposits) and cemented foreshore deposits. These rocks are the cemented remains of the dune and beach surfaces that existed when our distant ancestors and many other vertebrates were making tracks in the region in the Middle-Late Pleistocene, approximately 158,000 to 70,000 years ago. We know the ages of the rocks from the results of previous dating studies.
Tracks - Patterns - Sand - Effects - Wind
It may seem that tracks and patterns made in the sand are ephemeral, destined to be covered by the effects of the next wind storm or tide. However, perhaps surprisingly, many of these records are preserved, ready to be identified when they are re-exposed through cliff collapse or through forces of erosion. Our team has identified more than 140 vertebrate tracksites along this coastline. For example, as many as 40 footprints made by hominins traveling down a dune surface, and estimated as being 90,000 years old, were identified at one site...
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