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Innovative Homo sapiens in “Background of Africa” ​​in human history

Until now, coastal areas of Africa have been considered important sites for prehistoric discoveries because of the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens ritual objects, jewelry, and other signs of advanced culture. But now a research team has found more than 100,000 ancient crystals and drinking vessels from our ancestors in the Kalahari Desert – 600 kilometers off the coast. These findings suggest that the early peoples of the indigenous Homo sapiens contributed as much as their coastal contemporaries to the spiritual and cultural advancement of our species.

The cradle of Homo sapiens is in Africa – it seems clear. The earliest representatives of our race lived in Morocco about 300,000 years ago now, but anatomically the first people of modern humans may have grown up almost simultaneously in East Africa and the south of the continent. At first they made simple tools that did not differ from the old Neanderthals or Denisovans. There are no other cultural features from this early period. However, about 100,000 years ago, a turning point occurred: during this time, our ancestors began to leave behind signs of advanced cultural and intellectual development, including ornaments such as decorated sea turtles, remnants of pigment production, and painted objects. These and other findings are early evidence of an index, not necessarily a useless use of the property.

Does growth flow only along the coasts?

So far, most of these prehistoric discoveries have been made near the beach. So far, this has led to the widespread assumption that raising Homo sapiens comparable to us as a socially, creatively and culturally effective way of life is closely related to marine life or at least large waters. Numerous resources in these areas, including seafood, fish, water and often caves, gave our ancestors the space they needed for innovation – a popular belief. This was supported by the fact that the interior of Africa, with a few exceptions, especially in the East African Rift Valley, has not yet been studied anthropologically or archaeologically. Much of the continent in this case is still “terra occult”.

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However, now the findings of the “African Outback” shed new light on the cultural development of our ancestors and their spatial distribution. Jane Wilkins and her colleagues at Griffith University in Australia discovered prehistoric monuments in a rock shelter on the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert – 665 kilometers from the Atlantic. There are several overhangs on the slope of Mount Ka Mohana, which were used as shelter by the early representatives of the Homo sapiens. This is evidenced by the numerous stone knives, spear heads and scales of flint and other stones used in the manufacture of tools. Using dating, among others, optically induced luminescence dating (OSL) suggests that these monuments existed about 105,000 years ago.

Regular crystals for the ceremony?

In addition to stone tools, scientists have discovered other, unexpected discoveries: a red ocher with obvious signs of clear use, 22 rectangular, white calcite crystals close together in a corner, and fragments of ostrich eggshells. Although the eggshells were used as water containers and drinking vessels, the origin and purpose of the crystals were not initially clear: “These crystals did not find rock shelter by natural processes,” the team said. The rock structure of the interior of the rock overhang and its adjacent rock walls negate that they have fallen to the ground. Since the nearest source of such calcite systems is 2.5 km away from the shelter, people must have deliberately brought these crystals to their camp from there. “However, it is unlikely that the crystals were used as a raw material for stone tools – calcite is too soft for that,” explains Wilkins and his team.

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Therefore, they assume that the early representatives of Homo sapiens did not collect and store these soft, shiny crystals for practical reasons. “We suspect that geometric calcite crystals are deliberately collected objects that have served spiritual and ceremonial purposes,” says Wilkins. “Crystals around the world have been closely associated with rituals and spiritual beliefs in many ways, including the Stone Age of South Africa.” 100,000 years ago it was far away not only on the beaches but also in the interior of Africa. “Findings show that this Stone Age showed behaviors and cognitive abilities similar to those found in Indigenous Homo sapiens simultaneously near the beach,” explains Michael Meyer, associate professor at the University of Innsbruck.

Quell: Jane Wilkins (Griffith University, Brisbane) et al., Nature, doi: 10.1038 / s41586-021-03419-0