SA pebble part of UK exhibition

2016-11-13 06:00
The Makapansgat pebble of many faces. Picture: Wits University

The Makapansgat pebble of many faces. Picture: Wits University

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A little South African stone, said to represent the earliest appreciation of art, is on display at the British Museum in London.

The pebble, arguably the oldest artefact on display, forms part of an exhibition titled South Africa: The art of a nation, which charts 100 000 years of the country’s art.

The pebble has not been exhibited before.

It is registered as a precious South African heritage item and required a temporary export permit to travel to London in a specially designed, secure wooden crate.

The pebble is naturally water-worn and bears indentations on both sides that look like a human face.

However, it was found 30km from its watery origins and in the vicinity of our early ancestors.

The pebble’s aesthetic lies in the theory that these hominins recognised themselves in the “face” on the pebble and, in delight, carried the artefact to their cave, north of Pretoria.

It was discovered 2 million years later, in 1925.

Fifty years after that, Professor Raymond Dart, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, published a scientific paper on “the Makapansgat pebble of many faces”.

Dr Bernhard Zipfel, university curator of collections in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, says:

“This stone was found in the presence of Australopithecus africanus, an extinct hominin that lived more than 2 million years ago. But this particular pebble, which is water-worn, is not [usually] found in the immediate vicinity of these hominins.

“Dart felt that these australopiths had picked it up and carried it back to Makapansgat and there, perhaps, were looking at it, saw a likeness and had some form of aesthetic appreciation of the pebble.

"There is no way of proving or disproving it, so it remains speculative.”

South Africa: The art of a nation is on until February 26.

Read more on:    uk  |  pretoria  |  art

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