Inside of a cave in South Africa, archaeologists discovered a half-meter of ancient trash that revealed a surprising amount of information about the people who lived at the cave site about 164,000 years ago. The tens of thousands of years worth of garbage included things like brown mussel shells, animal bones, and other remains of marine invertebrates.
During ancient times, the cave on Pinnacle Point would have been only a few kilometers from the ocean’s shore, which means that whoever lived in the cave had very easy access to the water’s resources – and it’s not too far-fetched to consider that these people probably had open fires on the beach where they ate their meals in good weather.
One odd thing that was found in the garbage was a whale barnacle. However, it probably isn’t that unlikely that – while these people wouldn’t have been sailing out to the sea to hunt whales – if a whale had washed up onshore at a some point, they probably would have eaten the whale and used its parts for resources.
Another thing that was found in the cave was a collection of ochre pieces. Ochre is a soft stone that can be scraped in order to create powders with strong, colorful pigments. The presence of bright ochre in ancient cultures is often associated with things like ritual and symbolism – namely, body painting! Most of the ochre found at the cave was red, so it’s entirely possible that the people living here liked to give each other red temporary tattoos, although the meaning of such decorations is impossible to determine.
Finally, the South African cave also yielded some tiny, sharp blades, often referred to as ‘bladelets’. At less than 10mm wide, they were probably attached to the end of a long stick, in order to create spear points – or they could have been lined up along a piece of wood or rope to create a deadly, barbed weapon.
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