Public Lecture:


Tracing the behavioural evolution of Homo sapiens in southern Africa

By: Professor Christopher Henshilwood

Tuesday 15 November 2016, 18:00 for 18:30, Origins Centre

The original Blombos Ochre, oldest evidence for symbolism in the world, and other original artefacts from Blombos and Klipdrift shelters will be on display at Origins Centre, 15-16 November, 2016.

Christopher Henshilwood’s interests as an archaeologist, scientist, project leader and teacher encompass the development of complex technology, social systems, subsistence, environment, syntactic language and material culture associated with early Homo sapiens, especially those groups who evolved in southern Africa between 100 000 – 50 000 years ago. He has concentrated on finding archaeological sites that were occupied by H. sapiens during the Later- and Middle Stone Age and has excavated more than 20 of these sites in southern Africa. A central achievement and focus of his many publications is recognising that the most ancient symbolic traditions in Africa date back at least 100 000 years. The widely recognised impact of the scientific activities of his team has firmly placed them as world leaders in the field of modern human origins research. Henshilwood is an A-rated scientist, and a winner of numerous national and international awards for his research.

A major research challenge in archaeology is identifying when and how symbols were used for the first time to mediate hominin behaviour. Once in place this innovation provided an ability to share, store, and transmit coded information and played a crucial role in creating the social conventions and identities that now characterise human societies. The variable climates that characterised the Late Pleistocene in southern Africa are likely to have had a major effect on the continuity of key cultural innovations yet this aspect is not well understood. 

The capacity for these behaviours, including the acquisition of language skills, is likely to have evolved over a long period of time in Africa. A key aspect in tracing the evolution of these behaviours in the Middle Stone Age is determining whether innovative technologies and social practices, and the transfer of these skills over generations, was a continuous or discontinuous process.

Over the past decade the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa has challenged many of the stereotypic models. Recent excavations or re-analysis of materials excavated from Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter, located in the southern Cape, South Africa has, together with information from other archaeological sites in the region, produced crucial evidence that refutes the long held belief of a European origin for behavioural modernity. At Blombos Cave, for example,  the recovery of  100 000 year old engraved ochre and ochre processing toolkits and 75 000 year old marine shell beads, heat treated and pressure flaked bifacial points and engraved ochres suggests levels of cognitive behaviour not previously associated with Middle Stone Age people. This is also the case at nearby Klipdrift Shelter that contains 65 000 year old Howiesons Poort backed segments, possibly hafted as arrow heads, and engraved ostrich eggshell.


Entrance Fee: R60 adults/ R48 Wits staff/R30 students

Our pre-bookings are run by web tickets. There are 4 ways in which you can pre-book tickets:

1.                   Book and pay on the web tickets platform, follow this link. Please register with web    tickets, you will then be able to buy your tickets online.

2.                   Book and pay at selected Pick’n Pay stores. Follow this link to locate a store near you.

3.                   Book on web tickets, and pay in store at any Pick’n Pay.

4.                   Book and pay at the Origins Centre Reception

Contact details: Tel: 011 717 4700; [email protected]