On a visit to Blombos in November, the cave looks like a war bunker, complete with a generator, lights and sandbags.The team has excavated just enough earth to create a workspace for a crew of five.With Francesco d'Errico, an anthropologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Bordeaux, Henshilwood has assembled a team of archaeologists, climate modellers and palaeoclimatologists for a five-year, €2.5-million (US.3-million) project to look at correlations between climate and culture during the eventful span of prehistory that includes Still Bay, and the beginnings of modern human behaviour.“These are very daunting questions indeed, but I think they are answerable,” says Henshilwood, a native of Cape Town who now works at the University of Bergen in Norway.
Henshilwood's excavations at Blombos Cave have revealed distinctive tools, including carefully worked stone points that probably served as knives and spear tips, and bits of rock inscribed with apparently symbolic designs.Centimetres away, the same layer yielded Henshilwood's most recent blockbuster find: a toolkit of shells, grindstones and crushing stones used to process and store ochre, possibly for use as pigment or for utilitarian purposes such as tanning hides or cleaning wounds.It was further evidence that Homo sapiens had developed planning skills and sophistication far earlier than was once believed.Now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bergen, van Niekerk has been working with Henshilwood since the early days at Blombos. On this day she finishes early and heads to Henshilwood's beach house and scientific base to help a master's student, Cornelia Albrektsen, to conduct an experiment using home-made stone and bone tools. Within minutes, Henshilwood pops open several snails and determines which tools work best.They struggle for the better part of an hour trying to replicate the way ancient people might have opened shellfish. He then departs to clean up for dinner, leaving the stunned crew to finish the experiment. “He was getting all caveman-like.” During a break in the excavations, Henshilwood stares out to sea and wonders aloud whether the Indian Ocean holds answers.