SA fossils: Modern culture much older

2012-07-30 22:33

Johannesburg - Researchers say new South African fossil finds show modern culture emerged about 30 000 years earlier there than previously thought.

Two articles published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say the items found, including poison-tipped arrows and jewellery, are characteristic of the San hunter-gatherers. Their descendants live today in southern Africa.

Carbon dating of the new findings show the San culture goes back as far as 44 000 years instead the previous estimate of somewhere between 10 000 and 20 000 years.

Researchers also say these items have clear uses and can be traced forward to modern culture.

South African researcher Lucinda Backwell says the findings are the earliest known instances of "modern behaviour as we know it." Backwell says the discovery also reinforces that modern humans originate from southern Africa.

Poisoned-tipped arrows and jewelry made of ostrich egg beads show modern culture may have emerged years earlier in the area than previously thought.

The find, discovered at Border Cave close to South Africa's northeastern border with Swaziland, is a comprehensive package of hunting kits and jewellery made of ostrich egg and marine shell beads.

Backwell, who was part of the team of international researchers that made the find, said the artefacts created as many as 44 000 years ago served the same purposes as they would today.

"They all have a specific reason we understand, that's why we can name them," Backwell said.

Symbolic behaviour

The researchers' articles said the Border Cave people used poisoned arrows to hunt and put spiral engraving on arrowheads to indicate ownership. The latter practice has been preserved in the San culture, they said.

Professor Francesco d'Errico of the French National Research Centre, who led the research team, said that the findings tell of a people who were highly evolved.

"They were fully modern genetically and cognitively," d'Errico said.

Their cognitive development is evident in their symbolic behaviour, the professor said. The ostrich egg beads were not only ornaments, but played a major role in bartering with neighbouring groups, he said. That practice continues today.

The paper claimed that the fossils show that all modern culture came from southern Africa, though the researchers acknowledged it remains difficult to pinpoint where in history that modernity began.

Eric Delson, a palaeoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, said that while the testing used by the researchers to determine the age of the fossils was very clear and reliable, the findings didn't support the idea that all modern human cultures are connected to this find.

He said there is evidence that a modern culture already existed in Europe around the time the new find is dated.

"They say, 'Modern human behaviour first found!'" Delson said. "Well, not exactly."

He did, however, applaud the research for finding the origins of one specific group of modern people.

Scientists from Britain, France, Italy, Norway, South Africa and the US all took part in the research, run by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

  • Sandile Stamper - 2012-07-30 23:03


  • hein.huyser - 2012-07-30 23:58

    Soft tissue found in "millions of year old"fossils show that we live on a young earth, therefore I question these timelines

      Jellyarse - 2012-07-31 03:45

      Obviously a religious cripple!

      SaintBruce - 2012-07-31 07:50

      Did these scientists date the rocks by the fossils they found in them ...or did they date the fossils by the rocks they found them in? Carbon dating is flawed primarily on the assumption that oxygen levels on the earth have remained constant for a long time. Is that actually a fact or could changing atmospheric conditions alter carbon dating results? Anyway, the findings of brass, copper and gold artifacts that are clearly man made in lumps of coal that are supposedly 65 to 600 million years old throws a lot of doubt as to the age of man debate. Either man has been around a lot longer than scientific fact declares or the age of coal seams [ carbon dated ] is wrong ! The real question is , will all the evidence be carefully and openly considered and proper conclusions drawn ? We know that if something does not line up with evolutionary theory it gets discarded! So much for the investigative and exploratory thrust of 'science' when evolution is at stake. Once you know that a supernatural world exists, then you have to question your supposed belief that it does not. The evidence for it is so overwhelming that to ignore spiritual things is to plead a kind of stupid that belies your education. To the person who has seen the work of the spirit, your cry of fairies or imaginary beings is termed 'dumb and ignorant' and you are seen as a lesser person for it. Knowledge isn't everything, Truth is.

      mbossenger - 2012-07-31 08:07

      hein -do you know that the scientist who discovered the "soft tissue" - Mary Schweitzer - hates it when people try use her dicovery as evidence o a young earth. Oh, and by the way, she's a christian.

      fredster.mania.5 - 2012-07-31 08:25

      I agree, but give them credit, they were only out by 400%... clever people these guys

      nrgx.nrg - 2012-07-31 08:46

      to all above...what the point in doing scientific research, hey? All they need to do is ask your PROFESSIONAL opinion right? And i bet the answer is ...GOD DID IT!

      francois.viljoen.731 - 2012-07-31 09:24 Maybe you should go read something before just repeating stuff you have heard.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-07-31 09:45

      Nice link Francois, thanks

      Iameros - 2012-07-31 14:33

      It's very interesting how religious zealots become sceptics when confronted with scientific discoveries that affect their world view but yet accept all dogma with such a high degree of faith

      SaintBruce - 2012-07-31 22:52

      I noticed that someone posted a comment saying that oxygen is not involved in creating carbon-14 for dating purposes - but that comment is missing. Maybe the fellow looked it up and found that "The carbon-14 atoms that cosmic rays create combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide, which plants absorb naturally and incorporate into plant fibers by photosynthesis." Taken from a scientific journal. What is more interesting is the focus on one aspect of my comment but avoiding my 'burning' question ! If man made artifacts are found in coal that comes from seams dated by scientists [ geologists] to be anything from 65 to 600 million years old, how is that possible if man, by common evolutionary thinking, did not exist at that time ? Either the age of the coal seam is wrong, or the age of man on this earth is wrong but the evidence of a man made item (s)in coal seem to tell us something about our assumptions / calculations is wrong. To ignore this issue is to make the belief in the faulty science that may not be challenged into a religion of epic proportions. It begs an answer, but does science have one? Consider if you will the search for the higgs-boson particle - what if the factor imparting mass is spiritual? If it was, no instruments set up to detect something physical would find it! Just a thought. To Jellyarse - Christianity is thankfully enlightening, uplifting and strengthening of the human race. No crutches needed. Religion of all kinds cripples the intellect.

      dustin.mccrindle.5 - 2012-08-01 04:28

      Evolution contradicts the fundamentals of science, the basics of science, and therefore cannot be taken as true, or even as logical.\r\n1) Energy (

  • whoowhoohoo - 2012-07-31 07:38

    Why do these so-called scientist insist that somehow all inhabitants of earth are descendants of some mysterious black African mother ? Are we trying to argue the prevalent primitiveness of Africans away ? Sorry mateys, show me one thing created by this culture that has any value today. In other words, stop playing sangoma by throwing bones around and hoping to communicate with your forefathers.

      LanfearM - 2012-07-31 13:21

      Damn Jody, we evolved from primates and share a common ancestor with apes. We did not evolve *from* apes. lol ;P @whoowhoohoo - clearly an misinformed, bigoted, racist troll.

      jody.beggs - 2012-07-31 13:28

      @Lanfear thanks for the re-education ...

  • janalbert.vandenberg - 2012-07-31 08:38

    "Did these scientists date the rocks by the fossils they found in them ... or did they date the fossils by the rocks they found them in?" Why don't you actually go read the research and see exactly what these "foolish" scientists actually did. Before you show us your own ignorance by making claims about their work without even bothering to read it. Do you really think that these guys will be making claims which they have not carefully substantiated with facts? Oh, and BTW, they also know all the little rebuttal-arguments that are oft thrown around, and they know *exactly* how to make sure they avoid these using modern dating methods. Perhaps it is time to read the papers and learn something from them?

      janalbert.vandenberg - 2012-07-31 08:47

      Unfortunately the article is not available freely (going at a rate of $10), but the abstract can be viewed freely at -- all the supporting information is provided without charge. So anyone is welcome to go and access everything they did :-)

      janalbert.vandenberg - 2012-07-31 08:52

      ... to finish: modern radiocarbon dating techniques are much more advanced and carefully calibrated. The International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research sponsors a specific division in radiocarbon dating, as can be seen at; for quick summaries on dating techniques see; and links provided therein.

      janalbert.vandenberg - 2012-07-31 08:56

      Wow! I checked out the supporting info at -- truly fascinating stuff! If you are really interested in dating techniques you should check it out :-) For background info there's always with more links provided therein. Radiocarbon dating has its own journal, see

      jody.beggs - 2012-07-31 10:16

      @QuestioningFaith thanks for the links...

      LanfearM - 2012-07-31 13:07

      Thanks! Good links.

      SaintBruce - 2012-08-01 18:29

      I had posed the question of oxygen levels being considered a constant factor for all radio carbon dating techniques used now and in the past. I asked this as a question to see whether this was known among the blogging community and if the levels did change, would that affect the dating results in a material way? Of interest are the discoveries of very large fossils of plants and also various animals. They seem to have lived in a time when everything was big, bigger and at least much bigger than we see nature producing today. Why is that? Was the environment of the earth so rich that it supported massive growth ? Could the life supporting oxygen content in the air have been different? These are good questions to consider and to debate what the effects may have been as well to discuss any evidence that would support either view point. Sadly though, it seems that many such questions posed by an obvious Christian [ as I am] are treated with suspicion and treated with contempt. Not very humane or decent is it? Your links are interesting and state that carbon levels did change which needs calibration of the techniques to adjust output dates. Should a massive change have been present at one time / age, that could skew the results, but the core of my question is how can we accept a date of coal at 600 million years BP and then ignore human made artifacts found embedded in that same coal? That just begs a whole new set of questions, doesn't it?

  • mark.fotheringham.14 - 2012-07-31 10:55

    Anybody who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old is not only dumb and thick as fog, but also probably would have called for the execution Galileo when he stated that the Earth is not the Centre of the Solar System. But then again they would argue, that all this overwhelming evidence found in caves, rock strata, fossils, deep ocean and antartic core samples are all tests of faith, placed there by God...Humans have been around for a loooong time, your bible was slapped together by a roman emperor and some politicians to stabilize a crumbling empire. The sooner the creationist misinformed are enlightened the better. I love discoveries like these. We live in an ancient and wonderful world! God bless ya:)

      SaintBruce - 2012-08-01 18:09

      Hi Mark, your beliefs are just that - yours. If someone has a different idea and has studied enough to come to conclusions that are not the same as yours, then what gives you the right to call them 'dumb and thick as fog" ? Oh - I get it , your superiority complex allows you that leeway! Now that I have your attention - your comments show a distinct lack of understanding, tolerance or even research. I posed the question about the assumption that oxygen [ which combines with carbon to form carbon dioxide that has isotopes detected in old living matter ...etc.etc.] levels have been constant for as long as the earth has existed. If it underwent any significant changes then would that lead to the opportunity for radio carbon dating results to be thrown off by varying decay rates ? It's a scientific question and was rooted in the point most missed when I asked how it is possible for man made artifacts to be found in coal as old as 600 million years according to science. No one has ventured an answer to that question but have made snide comments or picked on other related points but skirted the core question. This is typical of those not wanting to act scientific but sit stoically to one set of ideas. Not very tolerant, nor very scientific. It's just a pity you have not encountered Jesus Christ as yet as that could change your life completely. Not that the God of Heaven hasn't tried. No, you have actively tuned Him out.

  • TrotseAfrikanerRSA - 2012-07-31 16:58

    LOL Previously 10000 to 20000 years and now 44000 years. Next week 3000 years and then next year 15000 years. You call this science??????

  • CassandraXabata - 2012-07-31 18:41

    Hallooooooooooooooo Jody??? Did you delete your own post?

      DamnTheMan - 2012-08-01 11:09

      No it must have been reported , but thanks for the conversation :)

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