You’ve probably heard all the hype about Maropeng and the Cradle of Humankind, but there is a lot more to it than the tourism marketers make out.
South Africa has quite possibly the richest fossil and archaeological record in the world – from the earliest known living organisms to dinosaurs, ancient mammals, human ancestors and early anatomically modern humans.
There is rock art in the mountains, and all over the Karoo, and coastal caves shelter the evidence of human occupation going back hundreds of thousands of years – including what may well be the very first artworks and tools in the world. Even what appear to be natural accumulations of shells on the open beaches may turn out to be priceless records of human occupation. There is so much.
But with this incredible wealth of resources comes a huge responsibility – and enormous opportunities. Even just a few decades ago, landowners were resentful of environmentalists finding endangered frogs or endemic plants on their land, as they saw them as constraints on development. But, with the increasing emphasis investors and residents of estates place on sustainability and environmental responsibility, these are now considered to be assets that need to be nurtured, both for their intrinsic value and also for their marketing appeal. And heritage resources are just as valuable as natural ones.
Pinnacle Point Estate, some history
Before construction started on Pinnacle Point Estate, the heritage impact assessment, which was done as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA), found that there were significant heritage resources – mostly in coastal caves. Because they were not on the land that was actually to be built on, the developers put this knowledge ‘on the back burner’ – something to be dealt with later. But then, soon after construction of the golf course, it was found that the irrigation water was percolating through the ground and into one of the caves. This required a huge about-turn, and the 9th, 18th and practice greens had to be moved – at great cost.
Pinnacle Point, which extends down to the high-water mark, contains evidence of early human coastal communities. Extensive shell middens, evidence of the use of fire, and deposits of bones and stone tools all tell the story of how a small band of humans hunkered down here to wait out the ice ages that were ravaging the rest of the world. About 100,000 years ago, when this part of the coast was not actually coast, but quite far inland, humans watched the moon carefully, counting the days (or nights) till spring tide. For that was when they would hike down to the ocean’s edge and – carefully timing their seaward excursions – harvest vast quantities of supremely nutritious shellfish from the deep intertidal zone.
Developer handover and HOA
When the HOA took control of the estate after handover from the developer in 2011, they started working together with Heritage Western Cape (HWC) to work out an archaeological conservation management plan (ACMP). The caves were declared a provincial heritage site in 2012, and the HOA continues to monitor and protect them under the auspices of HWC, and in terms of the ACMP.
Constraints, challenges and opportunities
Even notwithstanding the heritage resources, there are a number of challenges specific to managing a coastal estate. Land ownership extends only to the high-tide mark, with the intertidal zone being public, and there has been – since long before construction began – a public hiking trail along the coast above the high-water mark. This remains a public servitude, and also offers access to some very popular fishing spots – for both recreational and semi subsistence anglers. The latter are the present-day practitioners of possibly one of the oldest continuous human traditions anywhere. Of course, we will never know for sure, but it’s quite possible that some families may have been harvesting seafood here continuously for a thousand generations.
Anglers – as long as they have the required permit from Marine and Coastal Management – have right of access. In the past they would spend a few days here perhaps, and maybe even camp out in the caves – an activity that it now strictly prohibited. While these could be considered constraints, Pinnacle Point Estate management and HOA have rather chosen to look upon them as opportunities. The estate provides transport to the best fishing spots for the anglers, and assists and encourages them to keep the paths and fishing spots clean and tidy. And the caves have been turned into a significant tourist attraction. They are not open for casual visitors (even estate residents), but interpretive guided tours are conducted by Point of Human Origins, which works closely with the HOA.
It’s not just the caves. Extensive shell middens have been found on the estate, and form part of an ongoing programme of excavation and study. But, of course, there may well be more hidden under a mere 10 centimetres of soil, so the foundation phase of all new structures has to be overseen by an archaeologist.
It’s one of the conditions to which prospective buyers have to agree, and the estate has put a lot of energy into ensuring that real estate agents are well versed in the details. Also an outcome of heritage status, any new structure, or any change of land use, has to be approved by HWC.
‘It’s not really a negative,’ says Pinnacle Point Estate CEO Carl van der Linde. ‘It’s just one more hoop to jump through, but it’s worth it.’ The caves at Pinnacle Point are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list. ‘It would be great if the caves are listed,’ he says. ‘The entire Pinnacle Point Estate has been registered as the buffer zone for the World Heritage Site application.’
A big positive
While there are constraints, and some extra processes that need to be dealt with, the presence of the caves is undoubtedly a very positive asset, Van der Linde emphasises. In fact, he says, ‘international buyers are purchasing homes at Pinnacle Point Estate because of the presence of the caves, and our residents and owners take great pride in this priceless resource. It’s a huge selling point.’