The Mossel Bay Archaeology Project - the biggest project of its kind in the world today - is changing the way we think about both the origins of man and the effects of global climate change.But it's also changing the way our children view their heritage.
Barry Jooste is the education officer at Mossel Bay's Dias Museum Complex responsible for bringing the experience of archaeology alive for hundreds of pupils from local schools. He does this through the SACP4 Education Project (South African Coastal Palaeoanthropology, Palaeoclimates, Palaeoenvironments and Palaeoecology Project) which was set up about three years ago to enable learners to see scientific research in progress.
This archaeology outreach programme has been partially financed by the Garden Route Casino Trust, which provided seed finding for the development of the programme and the construction of a series of sand pits' - or mock archaeology dig sites - in the museum grounds, and which now provides ongoing funding for the transport of children from disadvantaged schools in the area.
"We bring them in by bus from the surrounding areas, and begin with a 90-minute theoretical presentation, and allow them to see and touch actual fossils and artefacts. Then we take them out to the pits, where they get to dig for artefacts that we've buried there beforehand.
"Of course these are not the real thing, but realistic mock-ups which the archaeologists working here made for us.
"During the dig, the children are required to fill out data forms, and afterwards we have a prize-giving ceremony where the winners draw little incentives - like museum T-shirts or chocolate bars - out of a box."
Sandra Falanga, an environmental consultant and a member of the board of trustees, said, "25% of the Trust's responsibility is towards the environment, and we chose to fund this project because of the fact that the Garden Route Casino is situated close to the Pinnacle Point Caves, which contain important fossil records of climatic change - which is, of course, an important issue right now.
"The Museum had indicated to us that it wanted to build capacity, but there were limiting factors. The Trust therefore funded the development of a copyright-free DVD and the programme has now been integrated into the Western Cape School's curriculum and it has been shared with all the other museums in the Province.
"The Trust is delighted with the result - the programme has benefited a huge number of children and the use of the data sheets gives them an inkling of scientific procedure.
"They learn about palaeontology and archaeology in a play-play situation, but it teaches them that science can be fun," she said.
Prof. Marean will be lecturing on the significance of the Mossel Bay Archaeology project and the Pinnacle Point Caves at this year's Nobel Conference on October 7 and 8. The theme of the Conference is "Who Were The First Humans?" More information at http://gustavus.edu/events/nobelconference/2008/ - with web casts and information about previous Nobel Conferences at http://gustavus.edu/events/nobelconference/archive/