Pinnacle Point boasts "a very impressive record" of advanced cognitive abilities in early modern humans at the time period the site covers, says Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Fleeting snapshots of such creativity appear in east Africa dating back far earlier, he explains. That creativity appears in the manufacture and use of pigments for symbolic and decorative purposes, groups separated by long distances exchanging raw materials, as well as shifts from hand axes to stone-tipped projectiles for hunting.
"You get things that fly through the air. The world has never been the same," he quips.
From disparate sites spanning different, far earlier periods than Pinnacle Point, the evidence suggests that "cognitive capacities and the social capacities had already evolved earlier on," he says. But invention can fizzle if populations are dispersed, making it hard for the innovation to spread, or the inventor gets eaten by some animal along the way as he heads home with his new invention.
The finds at Pinnacle Point, he suggests, highlight the role a persistent regional population with readily available shelter can play in perpetuating and improving a technology.
Pinnacle Point's blades required following some critical steps, according to the international team led by the University of Cape Town's Kyle Brown and Curtis Marean with Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins.