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The mysterious blombos cave and the early cognitive abilities of man

The human evolutionary path is less linear than has been believed up to now. Numerous discoveries by paleontologists and archaeologists force evolutionists to review some of the stages that, according to theory, led to the development of our species.

Some interesting discoveries have been made in Blombos Cave, a prehistoric site located in Cape Agulhas, South Africa, about 300 kilometers east of Cape Town.

It is a cavity dug into a limestone cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean.

The finds found in the cave shed new light on the complex evolution of the cognitive abilities of our species, which apparently occurred much earlier than previously theorized.

The Blombos cave was frequented by Stone Age men for about 140 thousand years, intermittently. The cave became famous when in 1993, Dr Christopher Henshilwood, of the South African Museum, discovered some stone artefacts there, such as symmetrical spear heads, dating back around 20,000 years. Further subsequent excavations brought to light some amazing finds.

Inside the cavity, Henshilwood and his team found some shells used as containers for mixing an ocher-based color, dating back to around 100 thousand years ago! A patina of bright red dust was found in the shells, dried remains of a colored mixture made by mixing red ocher, pulverized seal bones, charcoal, quartzite fragments and a liquid, perhaps water.

The mysterious blombos cave and the early cognitive abilities of man
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Along with the shells, the researchers also found millstones, remains of a hearth and animal bones, probably used to collect the color from the container. The discovery forces us to review some beliefs expressed in the theory on the evolution of the cognitive abilities of Homo Sapiens.

First, the findings from Blombos Cave show that man was already capable of abstract thinking that allowed him to decorate objects and his body. If this interpretation offered by the study is correct, it will be necessary to take note that our ancestors of 100 thousand years ago already possessed complex cognitive abilities like ours. According to current theories, this ability should not have manifested itself for another 40 thousand years.

But the surprise was the discovery that the prehistoric men of Blombos Cave possessed rudimentary knowledge of chemistry. It seems they knew how seal bones are rich in oil and fat, fundamental components for obtaining a substance similar to oil tempera. They also knew they needed to add charcoal to stabilize the mixture.

The ingredients used were few, but they all had a precise function and required precise processing. These findings show that man was already in possession of advanced conceptual abilities, thanks to which he could develop the combination of ingredients, the conservation and the artistic use of mixtures: a real long-term planning.

In one of the shells a fragment of goethite was found, a yellowish mineral perhaps added to modify the final color.

Before this discovery, the oldest known artistic laboratory dated back to around 60 thousand years ago.


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