The Brine Revolution | Did lowly shellfish change the world?

Some 110,000 years ago, foragers picked their way across a rocky shore in what is now South Africa, winding between tidal pools and beds of slick, glistening rock. For weeks, the small band had relished the thought of the day’s harvest and the feast to follow. Watching each night as the moon waxed in the sky, they had trekked to this shoreline, taking shelter in an old sea cave on the headland. This morning, as the full moon vanished below the horizon and the waves retreated, they walked out on a rocky realm littered with shellfish.

Moving toward the surf, they scouted expertly for the large, fleshy sea snails that sometimes sheltered in tidal pools, and for the succulent brown mussels that blanketed some of the rocks. Spotting first one dense clump of mussels, then another, they bent to their work, plucking shellfish with quick, calloused hands from the rocks and tossing them onto hide blankets. It was satisfying work, even for the young, but they had to be quick about it. No one wanted to be stranded on the higher rocks when the tide turned. By the time the waves crashed back in, breaking over the shore, they were on the headland with enough food for a small feast.

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