Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id VAA14093 (8.6.9/5.3[ref firstname.lastname@example.org] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from email@example.com); Sat, 12 Jan 2002 21:23:43 GMT From: "Lawrence DeBivort" <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Carvings Spark Debate on Origin of Abstract Thought Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2002 15:56:28 -0500 Message-ID: <NEBBKOADILIOKGDJLPMACEEECJAA.firstname.lastname@example.org> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="Windows-1252" Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit X-Priority: 3 (Normal) X-MSMail-Priority: Normal X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0) Importance: Normal X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.00.2919.6600 In-Reply-To: <88E9D21E-070F-11D6-B2A5-003065B9A95A@harvard.edu> Sender: email@example.com Precedence: bulk Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interesting. I hope Science will have pictures.
This reminds of a delightful spoof, Motel of the Mysteries. Any list
memebers acquainted with this gem of a book?
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> Subject: Fwd: Carvings Spark Debate on Origin of Abstract Thought
> Carvings Spark Debate on Origin of Abstract Thought
> Science: The discovery suggests the ability began longer ago than
> believed, and in Africa, not Europe.
> By USHA LEE McFARLING
> TIMES SCIENCE WRITER
> January 11 2002
> The very modern human traits of complex and abstract thinking may have
> evolved in Africa 77,000 years ago--almost twice as early as previously
> believed--according to a team of anthropologists who unearthed intricate
> geometric carvings on bits of rock from a South African cave.
> The finding, if verified, could overturn much current thinking in
> anthropology. But the sweeping claim is already generating controversy
> among experts in the field.
> The discovery suggests that modern human behavior evolved in Africa
> rather than Europe. The artifacts, pieces of red rock etched with
> geometric shapes, are more than 40,000 years older than another milepost
> of complex behavior: the dazzling paintings of animals and humans on the
> walls of French caves. "In light of this new evidence it seems that, at
> least in southern Africa, Homo sapiens was behaviorally modern about
> 77,000 years ago," wrote Christopher S. Henshilwood, the anthropologist
> who led the research. His findings are being published online today in
> the journal Science. The etchings, he said, "may have been constructed
> with symbolic intent."
> Anthropologists consider the production of art, particularly the use of
> symbols, a hallmark of modern human behavior. Others include the
> development of specialized tools, including flaked spear points and
> fishing nets, and the use of decoration.
> Modern humans evolved in Africa about 100,000 years ago. About 50,000
> years ago, they spread into Europe and began to displace the
> Neanderthals--a separate humanlike species.
> Almost all ancient traces of modern behavior, carved bone tools and cave
> paintings have been discovered in Europe. That fact has led
> paleoanthropologists such as Stanford's Richard Klein to suggest that
> some kind of behavioral revolution occurred 50,000 years ago that fueled
> improved abilities to hunt and gather, a population boom, worldwide
> migration and some artistic abilities.
> Klein suggests that the behavior changes were due to a biological
> advance, perhaps a change in brain structure. Others say the primary
> change more likely was cultural. Still others argue that no abrupt
> change occurred, but that art and culture developed slowly.
> Early humans living in Africa, many surmised, led a more primitive way
> of life--one that did not include symbolic artworks.
> The newly discovered objects could challenge all of those assumptions.
> The find consists of seven carved pieces of ochre, a red stone used to
> make pigment powders. Ochre powder is often mixed with animal fat to
> create body paint for ceremonial and ritualistic use. Two of the ochre
> pieces carry what look to be abstract carvings: parallel lines in a
> crosshatched design.
> Henshilwood said the patterns appear to be carefully and deliberately
> carved onto rocks that were rubbed smooth beforehand. He believes the
> patterns are abstract symbols that were probably created by one artist
> but understood by others--an ability that would likely require the use
> of language.
> But some skeptics say that because the newly discovered etchings are not
> found throughout Africa, they may have been a fluke or the work of a
> single genius who left no cultural legacy.
> Anthropologist Meg Conkey of UC Berkeley, who has studied the world's
> oldest known paintings on the walls of France's Grotte Chauvet, says the
> more interesting question is why the carvings were found in this cave
> and not others.
> Henshilwood said the coastal dwellers who occupied the cave could have
> advanced more quickly because of a rich seafood diet. There is evidence
> to suggest that early coastal civilizations often thrived, said
> Henshilwood, an affiliate anthropologist at the Iziko South African
> Museum in Cape Town and an adjunct researcher at the State University of
> New York at Stony Brook.
> He also predicts that more early art will be found in other African
> caves when they are excavated as thoroughly as those in Europe.
> But Klein, who has worked in several caves in Africa, including the
> Blombos cave where the new carvings were discovered, counters that there
> are excellent recent excavations throughout the continent. If
> civilization was advanced so early, he asks, "Why are these [carvings]
> so rare?"
> Anthropologists, much like modern art critics, are also vigorously
> debating the importance of the etchings. "Is it art, or somebody with a
> stone tool just sitting there scratching?" asked Klein, who said the
> patterns are "interesting" but not as compelling as the depictions of
> animals and humans created on cave walls 30,000 to 33,000 years ago.
> Added Steve Kuhn, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona: "It
> could be just doodlings."
> Henshilwood discovered the Blombos site in 1991, in a 120-foot cliff
> overlooking the Indian Ocean 180 miles east of Cape Town.
> In December, Henshilwood's team published the discovery of specialized,
> decorative flaked stone and bone tools in the cave. Found in
> 70,000-year-old sand deposits, the tools suggested unexpected
> advancements in civilization.
> The carvings were found in sediments conclusively dated to 77,000 years.
> The rocks themselves were not dated.
> The carvings are far older than the oldest previously recorded artistic
> artifacts in Africa--ostrich eggshell beads thought to be 40,000 to
> 50,000 years old and discovered by anthropologist Stanley Ambrose of the
> University of Illinois.
> A few carvings and ornaments older than 50,000 years have been
> discovered elsewhere. One, which seems to be the etched form of a woman
> with an elaborate hairdo, is 250,000 years old. But anthropologists
> consider those to be rare, crude and lacking in any kind of systematic
> symbolic representation.
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This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
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