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Creativity has been a part of human development for a long time. Recent research suggests that Stone Age humans guided their societies through some innovative twists and turns as far-flung tribes of Homo sapiens separately learned to survive with harsh African surroundings and unknown Asian ones, according to two new findings.
The survival of hunter-gatherers in southern Africa who lived between about 92,000 and 80,000 years ago in a dry inland region, owing to tactics and behaviors that they developed on their own, has been shown. According to archaeologist Alex Mackay of the University of Wollongong in Australia and his colleagues, those ancient innovations owed nothing to seaside communities known to have influenced how many southern African groups began making stone tools several thousand years later, starting several thousand years later.
- sapiens who arrived in what is now northern China around 40,000 years ago devised novel tools and were the first in the region to grind pigments for decorative or symbolic purposes, according to archaeologist Fa-Gang Wang of the Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China and colleagues. “We are the first in the region to grind pigments for decorative or symbolic purposes,” says Wang.
The findings of the research together imply that Stone Age civilization was more inventive than previously believed.
Preliminary evidence from Africa suggests that different toolmaking techniques at coastal sites extended over most of the southern section of the continent from at least about 72,000 years ago to around 59,000 years ago (SN: October 30, 2008). Nonetheless, the discoveries at Varsche Rivier 003 (or VR003), a rock shelter located 44 kilometers from southern Africa’s Atlantic coast and known for its toolmaking and other cultural behaviors, call into question a widely held belief that developments in toolmaking and other cultural behaviors originated only in seaside, resource-rich locales where neighboring human groups could have regularly shared information, as reported on February 28 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
It is also worth noting that the stone tools and other items discovered at Varsche Rivier are absent from sites of similar age located 100 kilometers to the south. According to Mackay, this indicates that the early H. sapiens at VR003 were not copycats. In 92,000 years ago, people — even those who lived in low-density groups — were more than capable of inventing new concepts when left to their own devices, says the research.
That doesn’t surprise Marlize Lombard, an archaeologist at the University of Johannesburg who studies prehistoric artifacts. The ancestors of modern humans in southern Africa 100,000 years ago or more developed various hunting tools that were most likely tailored to different environments, including light stone-tipped spears similar to the iron-tipped javelins that Indigenous African hunters now favor.
As Lombard explains, “at that time, H. sapiens populations possessed the [mental] understanding required to apply high levels of technical adaptability and creative expression wherever and whenever they were required or chose to do so.” Lombard was not a participant in either of the new studies published in Science and Nature.
VR003’s superior stone-tool manufacture was one example of a creative invention. Pieces of silcrete rock were progressively burned in open hearths by Stone Age humans living at the site, causing the blocks to shatter into tiny, angular bits. Small, sharp-edged instruments were used to chip away at silcrete particles, most of which were no more than a paper clip in length. The finished items were most likely employed for a range of cutting chores and hunting purposes. Experimental work using silcrete from sources near VR003 assisted the researchers in identifying surface alterations on heat-shattered rocks and damage caused when toolmakers knocked thin flakes off those rocks to identify signature modifications.
In addition, Mackay’s team discovered 26 remnants of mollusk shells, most of which were from aquatic snails known as limpets. At VR003’s habitation, evidence of long-distance transit of edible shellfish was very unusual. However, it has been discovered at two other sites in dry portions of southern Africa. There has also been no indication of contact with coastal populations at any of the locations studied.
After everything is said and done, the 21 ostrich eggshell pieces discovered at the site seem to have originated from entire shells utilized as water containers. Researchers believe that the curved edges of these shards formerly produced holes in eggshells that were chipped out so that they could store liquid, as the scientists hypothesize.