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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 6;107(14):6180-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0913047107. Epub 2010 Mar 1.

From the Cover: A Howiesons Poort tradition of engraving ostrich eggshell containers dated to 60,000 years ago at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5199-De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel Culture, Environnement, et Anthropologie, Université de Bordeaux 1, 33405 Talence, France.


Ongoing debates about the emergence of modern human behavior, however defined, regularly incorporate observations from the later part of the southern African Middle Stone Age and emphasize the early appearance of artifacts thought to reflect symbolic practice. Here we report a large sample of 270 fragments of intentionally marked ostrich eggshell from the Howiesons Poort at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Western Cape, South Africa. Dating from approximately 60,000 years ago, these pieces attest to an engraving tradition that is the earliest reliable evidence of what is a widespread modern practice. These abstract linear depictions were made on functional items (eggshell containers), which were curated and involved in daily hunter-gatherer life. The standardized production of repetitive patterns, including a hatched band motif, suggests a system of symbolic representation in which collective identities and individual expressions are clearly communicated, suggesting social, cultural, and cognitive underpinnings that overlap with those of modern people.

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