Quirks & Quarks

Prehistoric Human Ancestors Made Engravings on Shells

The first evidence that Homo erectus decorated their tools has been discovered.
Shell with engraving made by Homo erectus. (Photo: Wim Lustenhouwer, Vrije Universiteit)
Freshwater shells, collected on the Indonesian island of Java over 100 years ago, were re-examined recently with surprising results. The shells were dated between 430,000 and 540,000 years old, which coincides with the presence of Homo erectus on Java. They were studied by Dr. Josephine Joordens, from the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University in The Netherlands. One shell was found to be engraved with a zig-zag pattern, making it the oldest known engraving ever discovered. Others were sharpened for use as tools, while others indicated the animal inside had been consumed. These shells indicate that Homo erectus was more sophisticated and closer in behaviour to modern humans than previously thought.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
- Leiden University release
- CBC News story
- Smithsonian Magazine story