DST/NRF SARChI Chair in The Origins of Modern Human Behaviour, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa &
SFF CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE - CENTRE FOR EARLY SAPIENS BEHAVIOUR (SapienCE) - 2017-2026, University of Bergen, Norway (both the above referred to collectively below as SapienCE)
PRIMARY & SECONDARY TASK
Primarily, SapienCE will directly address unanswered, first order questions about Homo sapiens: a) what defines the switch to ‘modern behaviour’, exactly how should this term be defined and then, when, why and how did the ‘switch’ occur; b) were there changes in the human brain at that time that accelerated behavioural variability and how can these be measured now? Secondary linked tasks address the social organization of these early humans: was social cohesion enhanced by symbolic material culture or vice-versa and did it lead to innovation; what cognitive skills had to be in place in order for other skills to develop; how adaptable were humans to environmental change and did climate act as a driver for technological innovation, social change and subsistence adaptations?
Over the past 20 years archaeological evidence from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) in Africa, especially after 100 ka, has rapidly changed perceptions of the behavioural variability and adaptive strategies of these early humans. Research led by the SapienCE Director in the southern Cape since 1991, including his ERC-funded Tracsymbols Project (2010-2015), uncovered unprecedented new evidence at Blombos Cave (BBC) and Klipdrift Shelter (KDS), the latter located in De Hoop Nature Reserve, for the behavioural evolution of early H. sapiens in southern Africa. Major discoveries, highly cited, relate to advanced technology and include the earliest evidence for the making of a pigmented compound and the use of containers (100ka) and the first known use of pressure flaking to create finely crafted stone tools (75ka). Items of symbolic material, directly linked to cognitive advances, include the earliest geometric engravings on ochre (100-75ka), personal ornaments made from marine shell (75ka), and among the earliest engraved ostrich eggshell (66ka) (1-5). This research laid the foundation for the need to establish a Centre of Excellence in human origins research.
Through integrating the unique breadth of competence available at UiB with top international collaborators we are confident we can deliver transformative results. This can only be achieved by adopting a holistic approach (integrating Science and Humanities) that focuses on early Homo sapiens in considerably more depth than previously possible and that extends beyond previously limiting intradisciplinary boundaries. To achieve this goal the Director has attracted leading scientists from top research groups, including the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, UiB Psychosocial Sciences, U. Tubingen, CNRS Bordeaux, the Max Planck Institute and Royal Holloway. Thus in the SapienCE we are able, for the first time, to co-ordinate and integrate expertise and the analytical and computational facilities available to our team of archaeologists, zoo-archaeologists, micromorphologists, palaeoclimatologists, climate dynamicists, dating experts, cognitive and neuroscientists as well as geneticists. We believe this will provide the competitive edge needed for a highly innovative, cutting-edge CoE.
2. VISION AND STRATEGIC INTENT
SapienCE aspires to be firmly embedded among the top three humanities oriented palaeo-science institutes by 2020. The focus of SAPIENCE is on key fields related to early Homo sapiens that are of international importance and interest. In this regard SapienCE is uniquely positioned as our research area in the southern Cape lays the basis for ground breaking excavations followed by globally significant interdisciplinary research to be carried out at UiB. We believe this will allow for an ideal, yet rare, marriage of the humanities and sciences.
This implies that SapienCE will have to embark on bold strategies that will:
-Fully exploit its competitive advantages by building on existing strengths and by nurturing new avenues for intense engagement where it can produce top quality research results
-Sustain and increase research output in high impact journals
-Pursue ambitious internationalisation to establish SapienCE E as a world-class centre of intellectual engagement and a preferred destination for top-class international scholars and students.
-Increase its intake and training of postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows
-Provide a high-quality support environment and top-class infrastructure for its core functions