Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Etched Ostrich Eggs and Being Human

"Etched ostrich eggs illustrate human sophistication"
BBC (March 2, 2010)

"Inscribed ostrich shell fragments found in South Africa are among the earliest examples of the use of symbolism by modern humans, scientists say.

"The etched shells from Diepkloof Rock Shelter in Western Cape have been dated to about 60,000 years ago.

"Details are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The researchers, who have investigated the material since 1999, argue that the markings are almost certainly a form of messaging - of graphic communication...."

"...Symbolic thought - the ability to let one thing represent another - was a giant leap in human evolution, and sets our species apart from the rest of the animal world.

"Understanding when and where this behaviour first emerged is a key quest for scientists studying human origins.

"Arguably the earliest examples of conceptual thought are the pieces of shell jewellery discovered at Skhul Cave in Israel and from Oued Djebbana in Algeria. These artefacts are 90,000-100,000 years old...."

There's more detail in the BBC article: both about the ostrich shells and what they imply; and photos. Over the last several decades I've watched the idea of "primitive" people like cavemen change. A lot. Can't say that I'm sorry about it.

One pattern that I've noticed is that the earliest known example of - anything - keeps getting pushed back. No surprise there, since honest anthropologists and paleontologists are limited by evidence. Somebody could think that fire was used at such-and-such a time: demonstrating that it was requires evidence of some sort.

Related posts:
More in this blog:
'What's a nice Catholic guy like me doing, being interested in evolution?' Given the goofy course of Western civilization over the last few centuries, that's not as silly a question as it might seem.


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