Science

World’s Oldest Art Found On Engraved Shell In South Africa

New research published in the December 3rd edition of the journal Nature highlights the discovery of a 500,000 year-old shell with zig-zag engravings originally found in Indonesia. The shell believed to be the world’s oldest art was among a group of specimens anthropologists recently stumbled upon while rummaging through a set of fossils collected in Trinil, Java, Indonesia in the late 1800s.

World's Oldest Art Found On Engraved Shell In South Africa

The geometrical engraving on the shell has been carbon dated to 430,000 to 540,000 years ago, making it the oldest such artifact ever found.

The researchers believe the design was probably made with the use of a shark tooth while the shell was still fresh out of the water, so that it would have originally appeared as white lines on a black background. The researchers believe it was artwork created by a Homo erectus.

First sign Homo Erectus could produce art

Homo erectus is a human ancestor that lived from approximately 1.9 million years ago to around 150,000 years ago.

“We as humans tend to be a bit species-centric—we think we are so great and they must have been a bit more stupid than us, but I’m not sure,” noted Dr. José Joordens in an interview with Live Science. “We need to appreciate the capacities of our ancestors a bit more.”

World’s oldest art?

Until this recent discovery, most anthropologists agreed that the world’s oldest art was South African cave paintings found in 2009 that are estimated to be around 100,000 years old.

The scientists can’t offer a real explanation for the meaning behind the strange zigzag on the shell. In fact, some of the researchers are little hesitant to call it “art” at this point.

“What was meant by the person who did this, we simply don’t know,” Joordens told Nature News. “It could have been to impress his girlfriend, or to doodle a bit, or to mark the shell as his own property.”