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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.
   

A Nature Video documenting a cave in Indonesia that’s home to some of the oldest paintings and hand stencils in the world

 
The earliest known cave paintings have been discovered in a rural area on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesian. Using stalactite-like growths that cover some of the paintings and hand stencils experts have been able to date them from 40,000 years – 13,000 years before the present.
 
Pallab Ghosh, Science Correspondent for BBC News, reports Dr Maxime Aubert as saying that –
 
“The minimum age for (the outline of the hand) is 39,900 years old, which makes it the oldest hand stencil in the world. Next to it is a pig that has a minimum age of 35,400 years old, and this is one of the oldest figurative depictions in the world, if not the oldest one…”
 
There are also paintings in the caves that are around 27,000 years old, which means that the inhabitants were painting for at least 13,000 years. In addition, there are paintings in a cave in the regency of Bone, 100 km north of Maros. These cannot be dated because the stalactite-like growths used to determine the age of the art do not occur. But the researchers believe that they are probably the same age as the paintings in Maros because they are stylistically identical.
 
The discovery of the Indonesian cave art is important because it shows the beginnings of human intelligence as we understand it today.
 
 
Painting of a variety a wild endemic dwarfed bovid from Bone, Sulawesi, in Indonesia. The animal is found only in Sulawesi and was probably hunted by the inhabitants.
Image credit Dr Maxime Aubert
 
Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London is quoted as saying, “This find enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe.”
 
Full BBC article here. Read the research paper here. See also our earlier feature, Do the hand stencils found in prehistoric cave paintings belong to women?
    
 
Borobudur Temple by 22Kartika. Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
 
In a threat horribly reminiscent of the destruction, by the Taliban, of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, ISIS is now threating to destroy the world’s largest Buddhist temple of Borobudur in central Java, Indonesia. Pangea Today reports that –
 
After releasing the video of the beheading of American photographer James Foley, the Islamic State terrorist group – formerly known as ISIS – has begun psychologically terrorizing Indonesia. The group has pledged to destroy the Borobudur Temple in the country’s Central Java Province, although its motive was not stated in detail. The 1,200-year-old Borobudur temple, which is home to hundreds of Buddhist statues, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world.
 
Full article here.
   
 
Archaeologist Mike Morwood with the remains of a stegodon (left) and Homo floresiensis (right)
Image credit Kate Wong
 
Kate Wong, writing in the Scientific American, reports on the death of Mike Morwood, co-discoverer of the ‘human hobbit’ –
 
Morwood, who passed away on July 23 from cancer, made important contributions in research areas ranging from the rock art of Australia’s Kimberly region to the seafaring capabilities of Homo erectus. But he will be best remembered for a discovery he and his colleagues made on the Indonesian island of Flores: the remains of a miniature human species that shared the planet with our own ancestors not so long ago.
 
Full article here.
 
 

Painting (circa 1916-1919) by G B Hooijer reconstructing a scene at Borobudur
Image provided to Wikimedia Commons by the Tropenmuseum as part of a co-operation project

 

The Jakarta Post reports on 6 November that –

MAGELANG: Borobudur Heritage Conservation Agency has made slipcovers for the temple’s 73 stupas in order to protect them if nearby Mount Merapi spews volcanic ash again. Around Rp 200 million (US$21,000) is being spent on the slipcovers, according to Borobudur Conservation Agency head Marsis Sutopo, as reported by Antara news agency. “The slipcovers are made of parachute silk, sewn and customized according to the stupas’ shapes and sizes,” said Marsis. The main stupa at the top of the temple is also included.

When Mount Merapi erupted in 2010, Borobudur was covered in up to 3.5 centimeters of ash. The temple was closed for months during the cleanup operation. “Ash is really hard to clean off, especially when it gets inside the stupas. We have to dismantle them first,” said Marsis. “If the disaster happens again, we can immediately protect them.”

The agency also received funds to repair Borobudur’s walls, revamp the yard and undertake other restorations. Borobudur, one of the biggest Buddhist temples in the world, was built in the eighth and ninth centuries AD during the Syailendra Dynasty. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.

 

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