Toolkit 'shows evolution of cognition'
Cape Town - Scientists have discovered what could be evidence of elementary knowledge of chemistry and technological development during the Middle Stone Age.
An ochre tool kit and workshop were found in Stilbaai, Western Cape by Professor Christopher Henshilwood of the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits University.
"The recovery of these tool kits adds evidence for early technological and behavioural developments associated with humans and documents their deliberate planning, production and curation of pigmented compound and the use of containers."
Ochre is a term used to describe an earth rock or a rock with red or yellow oxides or hydroxides of iron.
Complex human cognition
The ochre mixture - estimated to be 100 000 years old - was found stored in two perlemoen (abalone) shells at Blombas Cave near Cape Town.
The tool kits which contained ochre, bone, charcoal, grindstone and hammerstones were possibly used for decoration, painting and skin protection. The process involved rubbing pieces of ochre on quartzite slabs to make a fine red powder.
Henshilwood said the grinding and scraping of ochre to make a powder used for pigmentation was common practice in Africa about 100 000 years ago. "Ochre may have been applied with symbolic intent as decoration on bodies and clothing during the Middle Stone Age."
The discovery of the tool kits was an important benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition, said Henshilwood.
"It shows that humans had the conceptual ability to source, combine and store substances that were then possibly used to enhance their social practices," the professor said.
There will be a display of the findings at the Iziko South Africa Museum in Cape Town on October 14.