Oldest handmade art-1.6 MYR

Glenn Morton (grmorton@gnn.com)
Sun, 03 Nov 1996 19:12:56

I ran across the following a few weeks ago. It is the oldest reported possible
artwork from the anthropological literature that I am aware of. It would have
had to have been made by Homo erectus. Considering that Homo erectus probably
made the Golan venus from circa 300,000 years ago, this second piece would not
be as unexpected. (for the Golan Venus see,Desmond Morris, The Human Animal,
(New York: Crown Publishing, 1994), p. 186-188.)

Mary Leakey writes:

"In concluding this review of the lithic material from Oldowan and
Developed Oldowan Sites the grooved and pecked phonolite cobble found in Upper
Bed I at FLK North must be mentioned. This stone has unquestionably been
artificially shaped. But it seems unlikely that it could have served as a
tool or for any practical purpose. It is conceivable that a parallel exists
in the quartzite cobble found at Makapansgat in which natural weathering has
simulated the carving of two sets of hominid-or mre strictly primate- features
on parts of the surface. The resemblance to primate faces is immediately
obvious in this specimen, although it is entirely natural, whereas in the case
of the Olduvai stone a great deal of imagination is required in order to see
any pattern or significance in the form. With oblique lighting, however,
there is a suggestion of an elongate, baboon-like muzzle with faint
indications of a mouth and nostrils. By what is probably no more than a
coincidence, the pecked groove on the Olduvai stone is reproduced on the
Makapansgat specimen by a similar but natural groove and in both specimens the
positions of the grooves correspond to what would be the base of the hair line
if an anthropomorphic interpretation is considered. This is open to question,
but nevertheless the occurrence of such stones at hominid sites in such remote
periods is of considerable interest."~M.D. Leakey, Olduvai Gorge
3 Excavations in Beds I and II, 1960-1693, (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1971), p. 269

The reference to the Makapansgat pebble is to an amazing piece of stone which
was apparently collected by an Australopithecus 3 million years ago and
carried 4.8 kilometers to his rock shelter. (~K. P. Oakley, "Emergence of
Higher Thought 3.0-0.2 Ma B.P.", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B, 292, 205-211
(1981), p. 205-206) This distance of transport is much farther than
Chimpanzees ever carry rocks. The farthest I have been able to find that
chimps carry objects is half a kilometer. (~C. Boesch and H. Boesch, "Mental
Map in Wild Chimpanzees: An Analysis of Hammer Transports for Nut Cracking",
Primates 25(2):160-170, p. 162)

While the human archaeologists noticed the pebble because of its red color and
its naturally weathered "human" face carved on it, when the object is turned
upside down, an australopithecine face appears. Raymond Dart writes:

"A complete perceptual transformation had taken place. The two little
rounded 'eyes' retained their visual status though their contours looked more
square and adult. The huge 'brain' and ridiculously pinched infantile 'mouth'
that had involuntarily prevented us sapient observers from orientating it
otherwise, were now replaced by a dwarfed, flattened, and indented 'skull-
cap', above a broadly-grinning, robust and typical australopithecine 'face'.
Its broad 'cheeks' and gaping 'mouth' have become so wide that even the total
absence of nostril openings would have been incapable of preventing any
perceptive Australopithecus from recognizing it as anything other than a
caricature of one or another of his extremely flat-faced male or female
relatives in a positively hilarious mood.
"The 'facial proportions' from this new aspect are thus in excellent
general agreement with those that reconstructional efforts have caused each
modern artist, with minor variations, to produce for Australopithecus. This
concordance of itself is sufficient justification of the inference that
conceptual processes of a similar nature caused an australopithecine to
transport the pebble to the cave at Makapansgat. In addition, the curious and
to some extent corroborative fact is that once one admits the possibility that
an Australopithecus had the intellectual ability to detect the presence of a
face on this alien natural stone, then the social responses that capacity
evoked, follow. The pebble would have had no point without an ability on his
associate's part to comprehend and share the emotional reactions, the
puzzlement and amusement, that the discoverer had had. And from this it may
also be deduced that he and his fellows at the australopithecine phase of
human evolution had already reached a humanoid level of self-realisation and
self-awareness."~R.A. Dart, "The Waterworn Australopithecine Pebble of Many
Faces from Makapansgat," South African Journal of Science, 70(June 1974), pp
167-169, p. 168

While the Makapansgat pebble was not manufactured, the phonolite pebble
reported by Leakey was manufactured. Its poor quality can be ascribed to the
extreme hardness of phonolite and the difficulty chipping it.

Foundation,Fall and Flood