Early cognition uncovered at Blombos

Dec 6, 2011









An ancient artist's kit, discovered in 2008, in Blombos cave on the southern Cape Coast, roughly 300km east of Cape Town, South Africa, is pushing the boundaries of when cognition is thought to have occurred in southern Africa, with the discovery dating back to 100 000 years ago.

Blombos cave has been yielding important insights into the behaviour of ancient humans for nearly two decades now, but this particular discovery has gained its own measure of significance.

Although it is thought that cognitively modern behaviour probably pre-dates the time when this kit was likely to have been assembled, the complex nature of the objects in the kit are making researchers re-evaluate their understanding of the people who lived there.

The find, which includes abalone-shell paint containers, bone spatulas, grindstones and other tools which ancient artists would have used for processing ochre into pigments to be used in decoration, is being heralded as one of the oldest examples of cognitively modern behaviour by early Homo sapiens.

Despite its great age, the discovery actually seems to indicate that the people using it were quite far advanced.

The fact that a method has been devised to produce paints shows that complex and systemic thought processes were present. Furthermore, it shows that these people were involved in decorating themselves, their personal items and potentially the place in which they stayed, which suggests that they posessed some level of symbolic thought, allowing something to be represented by a symbol within the mind, which would be crucial to the later development of language and abstract thought, a landmark step towards becoming the human beings we know today.

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