Between 75,000 and 125,000 years in Africa, coastal dwelling Homo sapiens waded through an aquatic paradise – collecting seashells to feed their brains, storing water in ostrich eggshells, and decorating artifacts in their free time.
This is the scenario that scientists assume. However, when it comes to ancient humans living inland, scientists weren’t always so generous.
As the enlightened coastal dwellers thrived, some scientists have argued that the humans of the interior lagged behind, both socially and cognitively. However, a new set of unpretentious artifacts discovered more than 370 miles inland suggests we have been selling them short for around 100,000 years.
What’s up – In an article published Wednesday in Nature, scientists describe 22 calcite crystals and 42 ostrich egg fragments found in the southern Kalahari basin.
It is a 970,000 square mile area of South East Africa that spans sections of Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The objects were found near a rock shelter just north of the South African edge of the basin at a site called Go-Mohana Hill. These discoveries date back 105,000 years.
The crystals were likely brought to the shelter by ancient humans for a non-useful purpose – maybe for spiritual beliefs or maybe because they just looked good. Ostrich eggshells, meanwhile, were likely brought there to be used as storage containers.
These findings suggest that the humans who lived on Go-Mohana Hill were “modern behavior”- a term used to describe the social and cognitive abilities that allow us to use symbols to communicate and create technology.
Objects also overturn the idea that humanity needed coastal life to become “modern behavioral,” says Jayne Wilkins, a paleoarchaeologist at Griffith University and the article’s first author. The neglected peoples of the Kalahari did well, suggesting that humanity was developing modern characteristics in many places at once.
“Ultimately, this means that models that focus on a single center of origin, like the coast of South Africa, are too simplistic,” she says. Reverse. “The coast was probably important, but so were many other regions and types of environments. “
Dig into the details – The crystals and egg fragments were buried 1.6 meters below the surface and were last exposed to the sun about 105,000 years ago.
Scientists determine this by measuring ionizing radiation in the sediment. This suggests that these items had not been touched since that date. From there, the team systematically dismissed the idea that they had been brought in by someone. other than ancient humans.
“… models that focus on a single center of origin, like the South African coast, are too simplistic. ”
The crystals were visually striking, but soft – probably too soft to have been used as tools, the study team said. There was also no sign of another source of calcite crystals in the immediate vicinity, but there was a nearby source about 2.5 kilometers away.
This suggests that humans brought the crystals there, possibly as a sign of symbolic behavior. If crystals were used as ornaments, it is a sign that their owners could aesthetically appreciate something unnecessary as a tool – a complex set of thoughts for beings struggling to survive. Humans on the coast have also collected sea shells perhaps for the same aesthetic purpose, previous studies have noted.
Prior to this discovery, no crystal collection had been unearthed in an interior settlement more than 80,000 years old.
Ostrich eggs, on the other hand, probably served a utilitarian purpose. The shells were found in the shade of a large rock shelter, suggesting humans already lived there. There was probably no trace of hyenas in the area that could have brought the shells to the rock. And, given that the ancient coastal humans also used ostrich eggshells to carry water at this point, it seemed natural to suggest that these people did too.
These findings “show us that the humans of the Kalahari were as innovative as their coastal counterparts,” says Wilkins. “They were not lagging behind coastal populations in terms of cognitive, social or technological abilities.”
Why is this important? – These findings pose bigger questions about how advancement occurs in the first place. A key ingredient, even in this new model, appears to live near water, but not the way scientists initially thought.
One working theory is that access to marine nutrients has helped humanity’s particularly large brains evolve, and that access to seafood and coastal resources may have facilitated complex modern behaviors – like symbolism or the creation of sophisticated tools.
Findings inside suggest that humans who lived far from the coast still managed to keep an intellectual rhythm, which calls that view into question, adds Wilkins. However, the document does not completely rule out the effects of water.
Analysis of historical climate data reviewed by this team suggested that the area around the now arid basin was in fact once filled with shallow pools of standing water and even running water, forming a “wet savanna”. The resources of a humid savannah may have supported human populations and given them the resources to thrive away from the coast.
“The Kalahari is generally considered too arid for the first human populations to really thrive there,” Wilkins explains. “Our result negates that idea of a dry, empty interior, with people only able to thrive in coastal environments.”
These findings add evidence to a new theory for how humans came to be modern, Wilkins says. Instead of being native to one place, humans thrived in separate environments (coastal and otherwise). They may have shared information and genes, and together they became the people we are today.
Ancient humans in the interior deserve some credit for their role in history – credit that was denied them for a few hundred thousand years.
Summary: The archaeological records of Africa provide the first evidence of the emergence of the complex symbolic and technological behaviors that characterize Homo sapiens1-7. The coastal setting of many Upper Pleistocene-era archaeological sites, and the abundant shell remains recovered from them, have led to a dominant narrative in which modern human origins in southern Africa are intrinsically linked to the coast and resources. marines8-12, and behavioral. innovations inside are lagging behind. However, stratified Upper Pleistocene sites with good conservation and robust chronologies are rare within southern Africa, and the coastal hypothesis therefore remains untested. Here we show that the earliest human innovations similar to those dated around 105,000 years ago (ka) in the coasts of southern Africa existed around the same time in humans who lived over 600 years ago. km inland. We report evidence of the intentional collection of non-utilitarian objects (calcite crystals) and ostrich eggshells from excavations of a layered rock shelter deposit in the southern Kalahari Basin, which we optically stimulated luminescence dating at about 105 ka. Uranium and thorium dating of relict tuff deposits indicate sporadic periods of substantial volumes of flowing freshwater; the oldest of these episodes is dated between 110 and 100 ka and is contemporary with the archaeological site. Our results suggest that behavioral innovations in humans in the interior of southern Africa are not lagging behind those in populations near the coast, and that these innovations may have developed in a humid savannah environment. . The models linking the emergence of behavioral innovations to the exploitation of coastal resources by our species could therefore require revision.