Beach view of South Africa field site

Emergence of modern humans in Africa

Our trans-disciplinary project on the South African coast is producing an unprecedented record of late Pleistocene environmental and archaeological data

In 2001, IHO made a major commitment to modern human origins and archaeological research by recruiting Curtis Marean. He brought to IHO a research project based on the south coast of South Africa that attempts to produce and integrate a climate, environment, and paleoanthropological sequence for the final stage in human evolution.

Research projects

Mossel Bay in South Africa
Mossel Bay Archaeology Project is a long-term field study of the Middle Stone Age of southern Africa shedding light on the early occurrence of modern human behavior, such as symbolic expression, the strategic exploitation of marine food resources, and the early use of fire to improve the quality
Excavations of pinnacle point caves in south africa
Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Context of the Origins of Modern Humans in South Africa, which, through exploration, excavation, and cutting-edge lab analysis, is developing the first continuous sequence of African environmental change from 400 to 30 kyr ago—a period of profound climatic osc
Fynbos landscape/biome
Geographical and Ecological Origins of Modern Humans in Southern Africa through multidisciplinary field and lab research on the ecology, fossil record, and genetics of the unique fynbos Cape floral kingdom.

Funding Sources

ASU Intellectual Fusion Investment Fund: Late Lessons from Early History Transdisciplinary Research Initiative, 2008 to 2012
Principal Investigators: K. Reed and C.W. Marean
Explaining a Confluence of Diversity and Complexity: Paleoanthropological and Paleogenetic Investigations of Fynbos, Marine Ecosystems, and Human Origins. School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Hyde Family Foundation, 2006 to 2013
Principal Investigators: C.W. Marean
The Mossel Bay Archaeology Project (MAP): A Long-Term Plan for Research into the Origins of Modern Human Behavior.

National Geographic Society, 2011
Principal Investigators: C.W. Marean (lead), E. Fischer, and H. Cawthra
Follow the Coast: Marine Geophysical Study of Early Human Use of the Continental Shelf of the South Coast, South Africa

National Research Foundation of South Africa, 2011
Principal Investigators: K. Esler, C. Witthuhn, and C.W. Marean
Geophytes and human origins (BAHO1): exploring the nutritional status of geophytes as a food source for early modern humans in the Cape

National Science Foudation, 2017
Principal Investigators: C.W. Marean
Excavations at Cave 13B, Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay, South Africa: Faunal Exploitation, Raw Material Procurement, and Organization of Domestic Space during the Middle Stone Age

National Science Foundation, 2005 to 2010
Principal Investigators: C.W. Marean
Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Context of the Origins of Modern Humans in South Africa: Constructing a Detailed Record from 400,000 to 30,000 Years Ago

National Science Foundation, 2011 to 2015
Principal Investigators: C.W. Marean (lead), R. Cowling, K. Hill, and J. Franklin
Developing and Testing an Integrated Paleoscape Model for the Early Middle and Late Pleistocene of the South Coast of South Africa 


Early human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during the Middle Pleistocene .
C.W. Marean, M. Bar-Matthews, J. Bernatchez, E. Fisher, P. Goldberg, A.I.R. Herries, Z. Jacobs, A. Jerardino, P. Karkanas, T. Minichillo, P.J. Nilssen, E. Thompson, I. Watts, and H. M. Williams.Nature 449: 905–908. August 2007.
DOI: 10.1038/nature06204 | View article in Nature

Fire as an engineering tool of early modern human.
K.S. Brown, C.W. Marean, A.I.R. Herries, Z. Jacobs, C. Tribolo, D. Braun, D. L. Roberts, M.C. Meyer, and J. Bernatchez.Science 325: 859–862. August 2009.
DOI: 10.1126/science.1175028 | View article on Science

Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (Western Cape Province, South Africa) in context: The Cape Floral Kingdom, shellfish, and modern human origins .
Curtis W. Marean.Journal of Human Evolution 59: 425–443. September 2010.
DOI Link | View article on ScienceDirect

Introduction to the Special Issue: The Middle Stone Age at Pinnacle Point Cave 13B, South Africa.
Guest Editor of Special Issue: C.W. Marean.Journal of Human Evolution 59: 231–445. September 2010.
DOI Link | View article on ScienceDirect