From: Hofmann, Jim (jhofmann@exchange.fullerton.edu)
Date: Wed Aug 07 2002 - 16:06:15 EDT

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    ScienceWeek - August 9, 2002 Vol. 6 Number 32


    Science 2002 295:1278
    C.S. Henshilwood et al (Iziko Museum of Cape Town, ZA) discuss
    the emergence of human behavior, the authors making the
    following points:

    1) Archaeological evidence associated with modern cognitive
    abilities provides important insights into when and where modern
    human behavior emerged (1). Two models for the origins of modern
    human behavior are current: (a) a late and rapid appearance at
    approximately 40 to 50 thousand years ago (ka) associated with
    the European Upper Paleolithic and the Later Stone Age (LSA) of
    sub-Saharan Africa (2,3) or (b) an earlier and more gradual
    evolution rooted in the African Middle Stone Age (MSA;
    approximately 250 to 40 ka)(4,5). Evidence for modern behavior
    before 40 ka is relatively rare and often ambiguous (2).
    However, in sub-Saharan Africa, archaeological evidence for
    changes in technology, economy, and social organization and the
    emergence of symbolism in the Middle Stone Age may support the
    second model (4, 5). Examples of these changes include
    standardized formal lithic tools (5), shaped bone implements
    (5), innovative subsistence strategies such as fishing and
    shellfishing, and the systematic use of red ochre.

    2) Utilized ochre is found in almost all Stone Age occupations
    in southern Africa that are younger than 100 ka. The ochre may
    have served only utilitarian functions (e.g., skin protection or
    hide tanning)(3) or may have been used symbolically as
    pigment(4). Evidence for the latter is a persistent use of ochre
    with saturated red hues to produce finely honed crayon or pencil
    forms. However, no ochre pieces or other artifacts older than
    approximately 40 ka provide evidence for abstract or depictional
    images, which would indicate modern human behavior(2).

    3) The authors report they have recovered two pieces of engraved
    ochre from the Middle Stone Age layers at Blombos Cave, South
    Africa. Situated on the southern Cape shore of the Indian Ocean,
    the cave is 35 meters above sea level. A 5- to 60-cm layer of
    aeolian sand containing no archaeological artifacts separates
    the Later Stone Age from the Middle Stone Age occupation layers.
    A mean date of 77,000 years was obtained for the layers
    containing the engraved ochres by thermoluminescence dating of
    burnt lithics, and the stratigraphic integrity was confirmed by
    an optically stimulated luminescence age of 70,000 years on an
    overlying dune. These engravings support the emergence of modern
    human behavior in Africa at least 35,000 years before the start
    of the Upper Paleolithic.

    References (abridged):

    1. The term "modern human behavior" as used here has no
    chronological implication and means the thoughts and actions
    underwritten by minds equivalent to those of Homo sapiens today.
    Key among these is the use of symbols.

    2. P. A. Mellars, K. Gibson, Eds., Modelling the Early Human
    Mind (McDonald Institute Monographs, Cambridge, 1996).

    3. R. G. Klein, The Human Career (Univ. of Chicago Press,
    Chicago, IL, 1999).

    4. H. J. Deacon, J. Deacon, Human Beginnings in South Africa:
    Uncovering the Secrets of the Stone Age (David Philip, Cape
    Town, South Africa, 1999).

    5. S. McBrearty and A. Brooks, J. Hum. Evol. 38, 453 (2000)

    Science 2002 295:1278

    Jim Hofmann
    Philosophy Department and Liberal Studies Program
    California State University Fullerton

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