Homo erectus engraving could re-write human history, and might show art began 300,000 years earlier than we knew

New ‘drawing’ is more than 300,000 years older any other marking made by humans or Neanderthals, and had been sitting in an archive for 100 years before anyone realised

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 04 December 2014 16:13 GMT

A zig-zag, drawn on a shell, could re-write our entire understanding of human origins and art. The pattern, drawn by a homo erectus as long as 540,000 years ago and found recently by an Australian researcher, could change all understandings of our early ancestors.

The engraving is at least 300,000 years older than other markings thought to be the oldest made by humans or Neanderthals. The pattern looks like previous finds, but the oldest known of those dates from 100,000 years ago.

“It rewrites human history,” said Dr Stephen Munro, from Australian National University, who identified the shell and published the research in Nature this week. “This is the first time we have found evidence for Homo erectus behaving this way,” he said.

The age of the rock, and the place it was found, discount earlier theories that the engravings had done by our later ancestors, Neanderthals, or by human beings.

Researchers are unsure whether the piece was decorative, or if it served a practical purpose.

The rock, part of a group of fossils that were collected 100 years ago, was only noticed by Stephen Munro when he looked back on pictures he had taken during a visit to the collection, in the Netherlands.

“It was a eureka moment. I could see immediately that they were man-made engravings. There was no other explanation,” Dr Munro said.

A team of researchers then worked to date the shell, which showed it was between 430,000 and 540,000 years old.

The team also found that Homo erectus had opened the shells by drilling through them with a shark’s tooth.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in