Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Engraved Eggs Suggest Early Symbolism

What do Homo sapiens have that our hominid ancestors did not? Many researchers think that the capacity for symbolic behaviors—such as art and language—is the hallmark of our species. A team working in South Africa has now discovered what it thinks is some of the best early evidence for such symbolism: a cache of ostrich eggshells dated to about 60,000 years ago and etched with intricate geometric patterns.

This fits with other recent suggestions of symbolism from South Africa. For example, last year researchers reported pieces of ochre etched with what may be abstract designs and dated to 100,000 years ago at BlombosCave on the Southern Cape; similar etchings dated to about 77,000 years ago were previously reported from Blombos. The Blombos team argued that this represented a continuous, long-standing symbolic tradition, but some archaeologists question whether such etchings qualify as true symbolic behavior.

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