Early humans from 100,000 years ago collected crystals, eggshells

The ostrich shells found in the study were certainly collected, but they were common to the area, leading the researchers to believe that they were the remains of water containers.

BEAUTY AND archaeology: Apollonia National Park in Herzliya.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
BEAUTY AND archaeology: Apollonia National Park in Herzliya.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Early humans that lived 665 kilometers from the coast of southern Africa, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, over 100,000 years ago had apparently collected unusual objects in a possibly ritualistic manner, according to a recent study published in the scientific journal Nature.
This would indicate that the group of early humans living by the sea were more culturally evolved than those living on the mainland at the time, and that "modern human origins in southern Africa are intrinsically tied to the coast and marine resources."
The study authors noted that the evidence may lead to the revision of the emergence of cultural innovations among these ancient homo sapiens populations.
The archaeologists found 105,000-year-old burnt ostrich eggshell fragments and 22 calcite crystals using various dating techniques. The authors of the study purport that the early humans inhabiting these areas used to collect these objects as some were unnatural to the area.
The archaeologists were led to believe that the ostrich shells burnt naturally. What was more perplexing, however, was the origin of the calcite crystals; they had to have been brought to the location, as they were not natural to the surrounding area.
The crystals themselves have never been found dating over 80,000 years within South African sites until now, the authors said, leading the researchers to dismiss natural scenarios and arriving at the conclusion that humans "intentionally collected such non-utilitarian objects," Nature writer Pamela R. Willoughby explained.
"Their deposition presumably had some symbolic purpose; a sign that their collectors were behaviorally modern people," she added.
As for the ostrich shells, which are commonly found at numerous sites in the area, the archaeologists believe they could be the remains of water containers.
This means that their purpose could instead be functional, rather than cultural.
Jayne Wilkins, of the Australian Research Center for Human Evolution, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland, Australia, suggests as the leader of the study focusing on excavating Stone Age sites in the interior of southern Africa, which are rarely explored, to determine if the coastal sites match that of the interior.
Wilkins and her team purport that a continent-wide review of the evidence could be a good way to understanding the cultural evolution of our early human common ancestors.
"The African fossil record for later H. sapiens now indicates that there does not seem to be any single pattern of technological and social development over time," Willoughby concluded. "Initiating surveys and excavations of lesser-known areas will help to clarify what it was that made our immediate ancestors truly modern, both biologically and culturally."