Mark Strauss, writing for KINJA, reports on the earliest know decoration by a Homo erectus
Archaeologist Stephen Munro nearly fell off his chair when he noticed patterns of straight lines purposefully etched on a fossilized clamshell. The engravings were half a million years old, which meant they’d been made by a Homo erectus—an extinct human species that predated Homo sapiens by upwards of 300,000 years.
In addition to the engravings, Munroe and his colleagues found shells that were carefully crafted into specialized tools. Taken together, these discoveries suggest that Homo erectus was far more sophisticated than previously believed and capable of symbolic thought.
“It is a fascinating discovery,” says Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. “The earliest abstract decoration in the world is really big news.”
The shells, which previously had been sitting in a museum, were collected more than a century ago by Dutch archaeologist Eugene Dubois on the Indonesian island of Java. Dubois had obtained the specimens from the same excavation site where, in the 1890s, he discovered the first-known remains of Homo erectus. In 2007, Leiden University archaeologist Josephine Joordens began studying the shells, looking for clues about what the environment had been like for humanity’s ancestors. It was then that her colleague, Munro, noticed the etchings.
In the seven years since, a team of scientists led by Joordens have been studying the shells, confirming their age and that the lines had not been made by animals. The results of their research have been published in Nature.
More here here.