Thursday, March 26, 2015
Homo erectus Shell Engraving
Earlier in the week in that post on Neanderthal jewelry I indulged myself in a little rant on how important discoveries can be made while reanalyzing collections from old excavations. I'd forgotten another recent example.
The Trinil site on the island of Java in Indonesia, was excavated in the early 1890s by Eugene Dubois. The site is best known in world archaeology as the discovery site of the first Homo erectus skeletal remains. The collection from this excavation resides at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. When Dubois was working, Java was part of the Dutch East Indies.
A marine biologist recently decided to re-examine the mussel shell in the collection due to his interest in an extinct species represented there known as Pseudodon vondembuschiansus trinilinsis. While photographing some specimens he noticed what appear to be zig-zag patterns that had been scratched on the exterior of one of the shells. You may need to click on the photo above and enlarge it to see the scratches clearly.
Dating of sediment on the shells places them between 540, 000 and 430, 000 years old. Analysis shows they come from the same stratum that contained the Homo erectus remains. This makes one shell the only known example of artistic expression by Homo erectus and the other the oldest known shell tool.
They sat on the museum shelves for nearly 120 years, waiting to be discovered.