|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Human Thought
|Ancient bling pushes back frontier of intelligence 25,000 years By Mark
Henderson, Science Editor MODERN human behaviour such as body adornment,
figurative thought and probably complex language began at least 25,000
years earlier than was previously believed, according to an analysis of
shell beads kept in museum collections since the early 20th century.
The perforated shells from 100,000 years ago, held by the Natural
History Museum in London and the MusÃ©e de lâ€™Homme in Paris, have been
identified as the earliest known example of jewellery. The discovery
shows that the early humans who made the beads, which were probably
strung as necklaces, were capable of sophisticated behaviour that we
recognise in people today.
Making and wearing beads requires an ability to understand symbols and a
concept of beauty, both of which are considered hallmarks of the modern
human brain. It is also probable that the ancient jewellers spoke a
form of language, scientists said, and as some of the shells were found
hundreds of miles from the coast, they may even have been trading with
The findings push back the confirmed origins of modern thought by at
least 25,000 years â€” the previous oldest example of jewellery, from
Blombos Cave in South Africa, dates from 75,000 years ago. The Blombos
discovery, reported in 2004, showed that early Homo sapiens was behaving
in modern ways much earlier than the previously accepted date of about
40,000 years ago.
The shells, which were unearthed in the 1930s at Skhul in Israel and at
Oued Djebbana in Algeria, have now been dated to at least 100,000 years
ago, in a study published today in the journal Science.
Detailed examinations have also confirmed that they were perforated
deliberately for use as beads. Together with the Blombos evidence, the
new research means that the history of human mental development must be
rewritten. While Homo sapiens became anatomically modern between 200,000
and 160,000 year ago, it was assumed that the characteristic features of
the modern mind emerged much later, between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago.
Evidence from those years pointed to a â€œcreative explosionâ€ in Europe,
Asia and Africa in which cave painting, body adornment and bone tools
became commonplace as humans acquired the ability to think in abstract
ways. It now appears certain that that capacity emerged much earlier. As
evidence now exists from three sites, two at either end of Africa and
one in the Middle East, it is likely that none of these is the first
place where human creativity began.
â€œThese sites are only going to be part of the story,â€ said Chris
Stringer, of the Natural History Museum. â€œHumans were all over Africa
and the Middle East by 100,000 years ago, and modern behaviour is turning
up all over that range. This must go even further back, though we donâ€™t
know how much further back or to what place.â€
The shells from both new sites belong to the species Nassarius gibbosulus,
a scavenging sea snail. The Blombos shells are from a related species,
Nassarius kraussianus. Their similarity suggests a cultural tradition
with a common origin elsewhere, Professor Stringer said.
The Algerian site is 125 miles (200km) from the coast, indicating that
the shells were sufficiently valued for people to have carried them
long distances, or to have traded for them. Professor Stringer said:
â€œIf people were using beads, they were using them to convey a message
about themselves, I believe that implies there was language, which does
much the same thing.â€
Marian Vanhaeren, of University College London, who led the study, said:
â€œWe think that the African evidence may point to the beads being used
in gift-giving systems which function to strengthen social and economic
relationships. The European evidence suggests the beads were used as
markers of ethnic, social and personal identity.â€
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