Homo sapiens was anatomically modern by 200 ka (thousand years ago) in Africa, but there is no evidence indicating that behaviour was modern at the time. Current archaeological evidence, although limited, highlights 100-50 ka as being a watershed for human cognitive, technological and social development in Africa. Significantly more research is needed to understand where, when and why early humans started to think and behave like we do today.
South Africa, in particular the southern Cape, is exceptionally well placed for answering these big-picture questions because the archaeological record of this region preserves the pathway to the early behavioural origins of H. sapiens. Revolutionary discoveries currently being made here are forcing a reappraisal of the process that has led to our modern human condition but first we must critically assess the criteria to identify modern behaviour, and find a means to recognize such behaviour in the archaeological record. This seemingly simple research statement involves complex exploration by a team of specialists.
Foremost, we will focus on excavating well preserved archaeological sites in the southern Cape, occupied in the critical 100-50 ka period. SapienCE has exclusive access to these sites that contain the keys for unlocking the past. In tandem we will introduce ground-breaking and innovative interdisciplinary approaches to extracting, analysing and understanding the processes that shaped the behaviour and cognition of early H. sapiens. In this highly competitive research field our team will combine the skills of cutting-edge scientists at UiB in archaeology, chronology, micromorphology, climate reconstruction and modelling, and the cognitive and social sciences that will contribute to an unprecedented understanding of early human behaviour.
Over the next decade SapienCE will consolidate UiB and Norway's position as a world leader in early human origins research.