Navigation Links
Modern culture 44,000 years ago

An international team of researchers, including scientists from Wits University, have substantially increased the age at which we can trace the emergence of modern culture, all thanks to the San people of Africa.

The research by the team, consisting of scientists from South Africa, France, Italy, Norway, the USA and Britain, will be published in two articles online in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, today at 19:00 South African Standard Time.

The paper titled Early evidence of San material culture represented by organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa was authored by Francesco d'Errico, Lucinda Backwell, Paola Villa, Ilaria Degano, Jeannette Lucejko, Marion Bamford, Thomas Higham, Maria Perla Colombini, and Peter Beaumont.

Doctor Backwell is a senior researcher in palaeoanthropology, and Professor Bamford a palaeobotanist at the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research at Wits University.

"The dating and analysis of archaeological material discovered at Border Cave in South Africa, has allowed us to demonstrate that many elements of material culture that characterise the lifestyle of San hunter-gatherers in southern Africa, were part of the culture and technology of the inhabitants of this site 44,000 years ago," says Backwell.

A key question in human evolution is when in prehistory human cultures similar to ours emerged? Until now, most archaeologists believed that the oldest traces of San hunter-gatherer culture in southern Africa dates back 10,000, or at most 20,000 years.

The international team of researchers, led by Francesco d'Errico, Director of Research at the French National Research Centre, dated and directly analysed objects from archaeological layers at Border Cave.

Located in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the site has yielded exceptionally well-preserved organic material.

Backwell says their results have shown without a doubt that at around 44,000 years ago the people at Border Cave were using digging sticks weighted with perforated stones, like those traditionally used by the San.

"They adorned themselves with ostrich egg and marine shell beads, and notched bones for notational purposes. They fashioned fine bone points for use as awls and poisoned arrowheads. One point is decorated with a spiral groove filled with red ochre, which closely parallels similar marks that San make to identify their arrowheads when hunting," says Backwell.

Chemical analysis of residues on a wooden stick decorated with incisions reveals that, like San objects used for the same purpose, it was used to hold and carry a poison containing ricinoleic acid found in castor beans. This represents the earliest evidence for the use of poison.

A lump of beeswax, mixed with the resin of toxic Euphorbia, and possibly egg, was wrapped in vegetal fibres made from the inner bark of a woody plant. "This complex compound used for hafting arrowheads or tools, directly dated to 40,000 years ago, is the oldest known evidence of the use of beeswax," says Backwell.

Warthog tusks were shaped into awls and possibly spear heads. The use of small pieces of stone to arm hunting weapons is confirmed by the discovery of resin residue still adhering to some of the tools, which chemical analysis has identified as a suberin (waxy substance) produced from the sap of Podocarpus (yellowwood) trees.

The study of stone tools discovered in the same archaeological layers as the organic remains, and from older deposits, shows a gradual evolution in stone tool technology. Organic artifacts, unambiguously reminiscent of San material culture, appear relatively abruptly, highlighting an apparent mismatch in rates of cultural change. This finding supports the view that what we perceive today as "modern behaviour" is the result of non-linear trajectories that may be better understood when documented at a regional scale.

Another paper, titled Border Cave and the Beginning of the Later Stone Age in South Africa will also be published today. The authors are Paola Villa, Sylvain Soriano, Tsenka Tsanova, Ilaria Degano, Thomas Higham, Francesco d'Errico, Lucinda Backwell, Jeannette J. Luceiko, Maria Perla Colombini and Peter Beaumont.

Contact: Erna van Wyk
University of the Witwatersrand

Related biology news :

1. Fossil egg discovered in Lleida (Spain) links dinosaurs to modern birds
2. Woolly mammoth extinction has lessons for modern climate change
3. Squid ink from Jurassic period identical to modern squid ink, U.Va. study shows
4. Research: Modern Portfolio Theory optimizes conservation practices
5. Modern hybrid corn makes better use of nitrogen, study shows
6. Crime and punishment: The neurobiological roots of modern justice
7. Has modern science become dysfunctional?
8. Ancient whale species sheds new light on its modern relatives
9. Modern Mobility Aids, Inc. Announces a Revised Agreement for the Acquisition of Lumigene
10. U of M researchers Darwinian Agriculture explains how evolution can improve agriculture
11. Scripps Research scientists show potent new compound virtually eliminates HIV in cell culture
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/19/2015)...  Although some 350 companies are actively involved in ... companies, according to Kalorama Information. These include Roche Diagnostics, Hologic, ... share of the 6.1 billion-dollar molecular testing market, according ... Molecular Diagnostic s .    ... by one company and only a handful of companies ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... Paris from 17 th ... Paris from 17 th until 19 th ... leader, has invented the first combined scanner in the world ... scanning surface. Until now two different scanners were required: one ... both on the same surface. This innovation is an ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... , Nov. 17, 2015 Pressure BioSciences, ... in the development and sale of broadly enabling, pressure ... life sciences industry, today announced it has received gross ... $5 million Private Placement (the "Offering"), increasing the total ...  One or more additional closings are expected in the ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... November 25, 2015 2 nouvelles études ... les différences entre les souches bactériennes retrouvées dans ... des êtres humains . Ces recherches  ouvrent une ... la prise en charge efficace de l,un des ... les chats .    --> 2 nouvelles ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OPBAP) has been formalized with the signing of ... team leaders met with OPBAP leaders Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. Albert Glenn ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The United States Golf Association ... 2016 USGA Green Section Award. Presented annually since 1961, the USGA Green Section Award ... work with turfgrass. , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., is an extension specialist ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Florida (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... biggest event of the year and one of the premier annual events for ... and ran from 8–11 November 2015, where ISPE hosted the largest number of ...
Breaking Biology Technology: