Archeologists have uncovered paint pots used by humans more than 100,000 years ago in a beautiful Blombos Cave, South Africa.
Red and yellow dyes, shell containers and grinding cobbles and bone spatulas – to mix up a paste – were all present in the discovery that, researchers say, is proof that our early ancestors’ were more modern than once thought.
The ancient painters which used to dwell inside the cave had stones for pounding and grinding colorful dirt enriched with a kind of iron oxide, along with animal bone marrow and charcoal, to a powder known as ocher. Traces of the mixture were found both in the grindstones and on the shells, where the mixture was made, all of which packed neatly together left in the cave for hundred of millenia. Perhaps the artist finished his masterpiece and decided it was time to leave, but whatever’s the case, he left an invaluable time capsule behind for archeologists to study.
Professor Christopher Henshilwood, from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, who led the discovery team, said: ‘This discovery represents an important benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition.
‘It shows humans had the conceptual ability to source, combine and store substances that were then possibly used to enhance their social practices.
‘We believe the manufacturing process involved the rubbing of pieces of ochre on quartzite slabs to produce a fine red powder.
‘Ochre chips were crushed with quartz, quartzite and silcrete hammerstones/grinders and combined with heated, crushed mammal-bone, charcoal, stone chips and a liquid, which was then introduced to the abalone shells and gently stirred.
Art: An ochre-based artist’s kit, dating back 100,000 years, was discovered in the Blombos Cave
‘A bone was probably used to stir the mixture and to transfer some of the mixture out of the shell.’
He said that the tool kits were evidence of early technological development, rudimentary knowledge of chemistry and long-term planning.
He added: ‘This is significant because it is pushing back the boundaries of our understanding of when Homo sapiens – people like us – first became modern.
‘These finds indicate that humans were certainly thinking in a modern way, in a way that is cognitively advanced, at least 100,000 years ago.’
The southern Cape Coast cave, situated 200 miles east of Cape Town, has provided scientists, who have been scraping through its sandy sediments, with a plethora of treasures since the early 1990s.
Sands subsequently blew in through the cave and buried the materials, until their discovery in 2008.
Prof Henshilwood added: ‘It’s possible the paint was used to paint bodies, human skin. It could have been used to paint designs on leather or other objects.
‘It could have been used for paintings on walls, although the surfaces of southern African caves are not ideal for the long-term preservation of rock art.’
Other artistic treasures have been found in Blombos before, including 49 beads smeared with ochre and large pieces of ochre inscribed with cross-hatch patterns that date to 77,000 years ago — widely recognized as the oldest known artOther artistic treasures have been found in Blombos before, including 49 beads smeared with ochre and large pieces of ochre inscribed with cross-hatch patterns that date to 77,000 years ago — widely recognized as the oldest known art.
The findings were reported in the journal Science.