Homo Erectus Made Zigzag Engravings on a Shell

Posted on December 4, 2014

Scientists say Homo erectus made zigzag engravings on a mussel shell around half a million years ago. The shell is estimated to be between 430,000 and 540,000 years old. The discovery is being called the world's oldest doodle. The zigzag doodle easily predates the earliest known cave art made by Neanderthals and Home sapiens, which is around 100,000 years old.

The zigzag engravings were reported in an article in the journal Nature. The fossilized muscle shells containing engravings were found over 100 years ago in Java by Eugene Dubois at a palaeoanthropological site called Trinil. The zigzag pattern on the shells was noticed recently by Leiden University biologist Josephine Joordens and her fellow researchers.

It is possible the engravings were made with a shark tooth that scientists say was used by Home erectus to open the shell. Joordens tells Nature, "We've looked at all possibilities, but in the end we are really certain that this must have been made by an agent who did a very deliberate action with a very sharp implement."

The Home erectus shell research team included Dr. Stephen Munro from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology. Munro visited the visited the Netherlands to study the collection. He says he did not notice the zigzag pattern on the shells until he later examined photographs he had taken of the shells.

Munro says in a release, "It was a eureka moment. I could see immediately that they were man-made engravings. There was no other explanation."

Munro explains the importance of the findings in this video. He says the engravings have no other natural explanation. Take a look:

The Scientific American says one of the mussel shells also shows signs of having been modified by H. erectus into a tool. The research paper about the ancient mussel shell zigzags, "Home erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving," can be found here in the journal Nature.

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