is an archaeological
site in South Africa
. It has become the focal point in competing theories of human evolution
and seems destined to dispel the euro-centric ideas that have dominated the field. While it has been accepted that anatomically
modern humans originated in Africa, Blombos Cave proves that modern human behavior
did as well -- as opposed to the idea anatomically modern humans emerged out of Africa, but that modern behavior arose in Europe
Blombos Cave is located near Still Bay (Stillbaai) in the southern Cape. It is about 100 meters from the sea and 35 meters above sea level. The site was discovered and first excavated by Dr. Christopher Henshilwood in 1991 (archaeologist at the South African Museum in Cape Town and an adjunct associate professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook). It contains excellently preserved Middle Stone Age (MSA) deposits that date to older than 70,000 years. Excavations between 1992 - 2000 have yielded finds that are directly relevant to the modern human behaviour debate.
The Middle Stone Age finds include a range of bone tools, finely crafted bifacial stone points, an engraved bone fragment and evidence for modern subsistence practices including fishing. The site has also yielded thousands of pieces of ochre. Most of these pieces have been scraped, probably to produce powder. Ochre powder has traditionally been used for ritual and/or cosmetic purposes and is often linked to symbolic behaviour; though ochre may also serve a practical function, as in the curing of hides.
But there is no practical purpose for abstract design - and several of the ochre pieces have them. These pieces have parallel lines carved into them in a cross-hatched pattern and look like European cave paintings that are only half as old.
It is a very deliberate pattern. It is not by any stretch of the imagination accidental. This is telling us people were capable of abstract thought. -- Dr. Henshilwood
Until now, modern human behavior
was widely assumed to have been a very late and abrupt development that seemed to have originated in a "creative explosion" in Europe. The most spectacular evidence for it showed up after modern Homo sapiens
arrived there from Africa about 40,000 years ago. There are many sites in Europe that depict this modern behavior - cave painting
s, bone tools, etc. Now, we have evidence that our African ancestors were turning animal bones into tools
and finely worked weapon points, a skill more advanced in concept and application than the making of the usual stone tools. They were also engraving some artifacts with symbolic
marks -- manifestations of abstract and creative thought
and, presumably, communication
through articulate speech.