Scientists have discovered the earliest engraving artwork from human ancestors on a 400,000-year-old fossilized shell from Indonesia, a finding they say “rewrites the human history”.
The discovery is the earliest known example of ancient humans deliberately creating a pattern, as shown in the image below.
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“It rewrites human history,” said Dr Stephen Munro from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University.
“This is the first time we have found evidence for Homo erectus behaving this way,” Munro added.
The newly discovered engravings resemble the previously oldest-known engravings, which are associated with either Neanderthals or modern humans from 100,000 years ago.
The early date and location of the discovery in Java, Indonesia, discount the notion that the engravings could have been the work of Neanderthals or modern humans.
“It puts these large bivalve shells and the tools used to engrave them, into the hands of Homo erectus, and will change the way we think about this early human species,” Munro said.
It is I unclear whether the pattern was intended for art purposes or served some practical purpose.
The zigzag pattern of the earliest engraving was only recently discovered on fossilized mussel shells, which had been collected 100 years prior.
Munro visited the Netherlands to study the collection, gathered by the discoverer of Homo erectus, Eugene Dubois, in Java in the late 19th century.
He did not notice the markings on the fossils until he examined photographs he had taken of the shells, once back at ANU.
“It was a eureka moment. I could see immediately that they were man-made engravings. There was no other explanation,” Munro said.
Following the discovery, an international team worked to establish the exact date of the shell, using two different approaches to arrive at the final result of between 430,000 and 540,000 years old.
The study was published in the journal Nature.