Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:
Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 20:14
The shell was already found a hundred years ago in Java. Now it discloses a mystery: a special inscription by a hominid 400,000 years old.
It is a thin zigzag pattern, engraved by an individual of Homo erectus, the predecessor of modern man. For seven years scientists worked on the study. The prestigious scientific journal Nature publishes it as a new insight into the evolution of human behaviour.
The shell was part of a very extensive discovery, made by the Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. At the beginning of the twentieth century he discovered much valuable prehistoric material above the Javanese village Trinil. Per ship this was transported to the Netherlands.
Neatly documented were also the shells of freshwater mussels in a cardboard box in the institute Naturalis. Seven years ago it was opened by biologist and archaeologist José Joorens. She showed the shell to her Australian colleague Steven Munro. He made pictures of it. At home in Canberra he did his fascinating discovery. He immediately sent an e-mail to Joorens. It was the beginning of exciting research.
Joorens explains: “Munro saw a pattern of a kind of scratching on the shell. He was really surprised. Normally something like that should not be present in a shell…” In Leiden Joorens along with fellow researcher Frank Wesselingh needed a lot of time for further investigation. They had to consider all other possible causes of the scratches. Eventually they could draw no other conclusion anymore about this one shell.
“There are many things that may scratch,” said Wesselingh. “At first we did not believe ourselves what we saw. We considered all possibilities. And we can only conclude that this must have been done by a hominid.”
Until now only an engraving by Homo sapiens was known of 100,000 years old. It was found in South Africa. After the new discovery a drawing in color was made of a shaggy man who proudly displays the shell with a zigzag pattern. It is unclear what he meant. The researchers have carefully avoided to describe it as an early form of art.
“We can not look inside the head of Homo erectus,” said Joorens. “We do know that it must have taken considerable effort to make such a nice pattern. We have tried to imitate it and noticed that you have to really pay much attention to it to get it so neatly. It was absolutely a skilled individual.”
“Trinil was here”
Simply it might be a message like ‘Trinil was here’, in the handwriting of someone who wanted to leave something for posterity. “A matter of pride: to show that you possess something beautiful, as you now show an iPhone,” said Wesselingh. “That shell used to be quite dark. If you scratched it would show beautiful white luminous lines. The picture on the reconstruction is more beautiful than it is now, but what it means we do not know.”
The discovery gives rise to an adjustment of knowledge and ideas about the evolution of man. “It does not show that [our species] is earlier than we thought, but that we had predecessors who also had certain skills. It also says something about ourselves, that we tend to overestimate ourselves as modern man and underestimate others.”
See also here.
Homo erectus engraving could re-write human history, and might show art began 400,000 years earlier than we knew: here.
A recent article in the scientific journal Nature reports on the discovery of what appears to be a clamshell bearing intentionally produced geometric engravings dating to approximately half a million years ago (radiometrically dated to between 430,000 and 540,000 years before the present). If confirmed, this would be the oldest symbolic representation by human ancestors yet discovered, documenting an early stage in the development of modern human cognition: here.