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History of Knysna

In the beginning

In recent years, increasing numbers of paleoanthropologists have been reaching the conclusion that the region around Mossel Bay is the site where Homo Sapiens first emerged as a species. The theory is that early hominids were pushed south of the Outeniqua mountains into what is now called ‘The Garden Route’ when, over the course of several millennia, a gradual drying of southern Africa’s climate created an environment too inhospitable for our early ancestors.

Sandwiched between the mountains and the oceans, the climate was cooler and wetter here, allowing for an abundant ecosystem in which early hominids could thrive. Here our hominid ancestors, for the first time, found themselves in a coastal setting and consequently, it was here that they first incorporated seafood into their diet. The natural consequence of a seafood-rich diet is a higher rate of omega-3 consumption which, in turn, leads to an increase in brain capacity. Proponents of this theory believe that this gradual increase in brain capacity eventually resulted in the emergence of modern man.

Strong evidence of an early human presence has been discovered in the Mossel Bay area; the fact that Knysna lies only around 65 miles away would suggest that this area was also (eventually) home to some of our most ancient ancestors.

At Noetzie beach, situated only a short distance from Knysna itself, an information board references local evidence of ancient peoples frequenting the area. Middens (man-made mounds of discarded food waste) and the remains of rock pool traps there inform us that they were engaged in fishing activities. These rock pool traps are some of the oldest known evidence of human fishing practices. Such evidence strongly supports the theory expounded above.

The sea level would have been much lower than it is today when our first Homosapien ancestors emerged in the region. At that time, the iconic ‘Knysna Heads’ would not have formed a lagoon; rather the area would more likely have been a gorge of some kind and the lagoon itself was probably a valley which wound up into the foothills of the mountains. The sea level - generally speaking - has been rising since then. As the oceans advanced inland, mankind retreated towards the very mountains their pre-human ancestors had crossed over millennia before. As they migrated north, the evidence of early human evolution was submerged by the same seas which had sustained them. But all the while, situated within the perfect ecosystem of ‘The Garden Route’, our ancestors thrived. The theory continues that some of them began to migrate northwards from here, initially following rivers and coastlines until, eventually, the whole world was colonised by our species.

The primordial coastal ecosystem of the Garden Route is therefore extremely likely to have been a part of the human story since the very beginning. This makes Knysna, and the rest of the Garden Route's coast, the last remaining - above water - landscape which holds the answers to this stage in the evolution of our species. The region's history is, in short, as ancient as our species itself.
Christopher Blyth - Historian - Glasgow, Scotland
View from Westhill Luxury Guest House, Knysna Knysna and the Knysna Estuary, through The Heads to the Indian Ocean. View from Westhill Luxury Guest House.
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