As it turns out the oldest art on Earth was carved onto shell 540,000 years ago, and the instrument used to do that carving was a shark tooth.
A new study has found that ancient humans – the ones that were significantly larger than modern-day humans, and also ate freshwater shellfish – actually participated in their own form of art. A more functional art than artistic-art per say, but still art nonetheless. That study, which took place in Java, Indonesia found a shell that contained engravings that ranged between 430,000 and 540,000 years old. The researchers said that this very easily could be the oldest artwork known to mankind – and as it turns out their claim was true. The find also would indicate, according to scientists that Homo erectus might have been a little more intelligent than researchers had previously believed.
In fact, the series of slashes, zigzag’s and “M” shape that was carved into one particular shell – could indicate its own form of communication. However, scientists and researchers haven’t substantiated that or verified that in any way – so to this point, the discovery is focused on the actual design – rather than what the design might mean. Josephine Joordens, the lead researcher on the study noted that “We need to appreciate the capacities of our ancestors a bit more.”
The shells themselves had an incredibly long road to where they are today, being claimed as one of the biggest parts of human history. They were excavated well over 100 years ago, and in the 1890s when they were discovered – little was known regarding the secrets they could hold. However, in addition to being forms of art – scientists and researchers noted that another portion of the shell was likely used as a tool. Joordens noted that “You had to use a lot of strength in your hands,” to make the cuts that were seen in these shells – as they are not themselves easy to carve.
Science has already shown that Homo erectus used stone tools – but the discovery within the shells reveals the first time that scientists have been able to confirm that shells were used for that purpose as well. According to Pat Shipmen a former adjunct professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University noted that “Given that they don’t seem to be using stone tools as much, it’s very interesting to discover evidence suggesting strongly that they were using tools made out of another kind of material.”
This discovery is definitely one that will give scientists more reason to continue digging into the history and the science that lies behind our human ancestors and their processes for getting things done, and living life – even as it may have seemed to be a simpler lifestyle.