500,000-Year-Old Engraving Found On Shell, Crafted By Homo Erectus, Changes How We See The Ancient People

A freshwater shell was recently discovered with an engraving on it that is believed to be about half a million years old. Researchers, led by archaeologist and lead author José Joordens, believe the engravings were made on the shell by Homo erectus. This would disprove an earlier theory that Homo sapiens were the only ancient earthlings that carved similar patterns on objects, as Inquisitr previously reported. Homo erectus is an extinct human species (even older than Neanderthals) that first appeared on earth more than a million years ago, according to NPR.

“Until this discovery, it was assumed that comparable engravings were only made by modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa, starting about 100,000 years ago,” Joordens said.

Besides the implications that the carvings could have on previously held beliefs over which ancient beings were capable of artistic or decorative expression, the mussel shell carvings and other clues show that Homo erectus, our ancient ancestors, used tools and even made tools with great accuracy.

“This research has shown that these early human-like people were very clever about how they opened these large freshwater mussels; they drilled a hole through the shell using a sharp object, possibly a shark’s tooth, exactly at the point where the muscle is attached that keeps the shell closed,” Science Daily explained of Homo erectus’ handling of the shells.

“The precision with which these early humans worked indicates great dexterity and detailed knowledge of mollusc anatomy,” says shell fossil expert Frank Wesselingh.

The empty shells were also used to manufacture tools including knives, the researchers believe.

Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, isn’t convinced that the carvings are actually artwork. She offers one idea that the carving could have even occurred when a Homo erectus child picked up an elder’s tool and was practicing how to use it. She does say that the engravings on the shells do offer a new exciting mystery to scientists.

“It raises the possibility that the development of human cognition — human culture — was a very long process,” Brooks said. “It was not a sudden development.”

Still, Joordens says the team tried to duplicate the same pattern on fresh and fossilized shells and found the process difficult. Joordens said there is no doubt the design was intentional.

“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,” Joordens said.

The discovery of the shell indicated that Homo sapiens were nowhere near the first species on earth to exhibit advanced cognition, neuromotor control, or basic tool crafting skills.

[Photo via Nature by Henk Caspers/Naturalis]