culture

60,000 year old Ostrich shell paintings

From Scienceblogger “Not Rocket Science” : The latest finds show that people were carvings symbolic patterns into ostrich eggs as early as 60,000 years ago. Pierre-Jean Texier from the University of Bordeaux discovered a set of 270 eggshell fragments from Howieson Poort Shelter, a South African cave that has been a rich source of archaeological finds. 
From Science News: The unusually large sample of 270 engraved eggshell fragments, mostly excavated over the past several years at Diepkloof Rock Shelter in South Africa, displays two standard design patterns. Each pattern enjoyed its own heyday between approximately 65,000 and 55,000 years ago, the investigators report in a paper to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(Back to Rocket Science): Judging by their patterns, the fragments must have come from at least 25 separate eggs, although probably many more. Texier says that the sheer number is “exceptional in prehistory”. Their unprecedented diversity and etched patterns provide some of the best evidence yet for a prehistoric artistic tradition. While previous digs have thrown up piecemeal examples of symbolic art, Texier’s finds allow him to compare patterns across individual pieces, to get a feel of the entire movement, rather than the work of an individual.

 Back to Science News: Researchers already knew that the Howiesons Poort culture, which engraved the eggshells, engaged in other symbolic practices, such as engraving designs into pieces of pigment, that were considered to have been crucial advances in human behavioral evolution. But the Diepkloof finds represent the first archaeological sample large enough to demonstrate that Stone Age people created design traditions, at least in their engravings, Texier says.

(Continue reading full Science News story… )

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Neanderthal Shell Art

From Scientific American:

Newly discovered painted scallops and cockleshells in Spain are the first hard evidence that Neandertals made jewelry. These findings suggest humanity’s closest extinct relatives might have been capable of symbolism, after all.

Body ornaments made of painted and pierced seashells dating back 70,000 to 120,000 years have been found in Africa and the Near East for years, and serve as evidence of symbolic thought among the earliest modern humans (Homo sapiens). The absence of similar finds in Europe at that time, when it was Neandertal territory, has supported the notion that they lacked symbolism, a potential sign of mental inferiority that might help explain why modern humans eventually replaced them.

Although hints of Neandertal art and jewelry have cropped up in recent years, such as pierced and grooved animal-tooth pendants or a decorated limestone slab on the grave of a child, these have often been shrugged off as artifacts mixed in from modern humans, imitation without understanding, or ambiguous in nature. Now archaeologist João Zilhão at the University of Bristol in England and his colleagues have found 50,000-year-old jewelry at two caves in southeastern Spain, art dating back 10,000 years before the fossil record reveals evidence of modern humans entering Europe.

Full article

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