Modern human behavior may have emerged 100,000 years agoJune 13th, 2009 - 2:58 pm ICT by ANI
Washington, June 13 (ANI): Scientists excavating a Stone Age cave on South Africa’s southern coast have found a trail of 100,000 year old engraved pigments, which suggests that modern human behavior may have emerged around that period.
Analyses of 13 chunks of decorated red ochre from Blombos Cave indicate that a cultural tradition of creating meaningful geometric designs stretched from around 100,000 to 75,000 years ago in southern Africa, according to anthropologist Christopher Henshilwood of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues.
Much debate surrounds the issue of when and where language, religion, symbolic decorations and other facets of modern human behavior originated.
Researchers such as Henshilwood hypothesize that modern human behavior developed gradually in Africa, beginning more than 100,000 years ago.
Others posit that a brain-boosting genetic mutation around 50,000 years ago fostered modern behavior in Africa.
Some researchers suspect that behavioral advances first appeared in Europe, Asia and Africa at that later time.
Possible examples of symbolic behavior from around 100,000 years ago, such as proposed human burials in the Middle East and pigment use in Africa, have been controversial.
“What makes the Blombos engravings different is that some of them appear to represent a deliberate will to produce a complex abstract design,” Henshilwood said.
“We have not before seen well-dated and unambiguous traces of this kind of behavior at 100,000 years ago,” he added.
In 2002, Henshilwood’s team described evidence of symbolic engravings on two other ochre pieces from Blombos Cave.
Those 77,000-year-old finds were excavated in 1999 and 2000. Engraved chunks of pigment in the new analysis were unearthed during the same excavations.
Specimens came from either of three sediment levels with estimated ages of 72,000 years, 77,000 years and 100,000 years.
A microscopic analysis indicates that ochre designs were made by holding a piece of pigment with one hand while impressing lines into the pigment with the tip of a stone tool.
On several pieces, patterns covered areas that had first been ground down.
Geometric patterns on the ochre pieces include cross-hatched designs, branching lines, parallel lines and right angles.
Pigment powder had also been removed from many of the recovered ochre chunks.
The scientists speculate that incised patterns may have served as models for pigment designs applied to animal skins or other material.
Excavations of Blombos Cave sediment from before 100,000 years ago have begun. “The discovery of more, and perhaps even more striking, engravings is very possible,” Henshilwood said. (ANI)
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