Toolkit 'shows evolution of cognition'

2011-10-14 21:06

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.

  • colin.dovey - 2011-10-14 22:48

    This is the kind of positive news that enthral us all about living in South Africa.What an exciting find on the part of Prof Henshilwood and his team! As a member of the public one can only guess as to where these people cam from, or indeed where they eventually migrated to...were they part of the Khoisan people?

  • Mart - 2011-10-15 10:14

    are cognitive ability and logic one and the same thing? Would early man have recognised although maybe not fully understood the effect of gravity. Sorry to ask these silly, but I think interesting questions!

      danie.malherbe1 - 2012-03-06 16:41

      Mart, I would think that logic is a subset of cognition (applying the brain with a self-awareness), just like symbolic projection is a subset of cognition. Logic is applied to identify containers, use tools and mix ochre, where symbolic projection is used to identify with stature and societal beliefs by marking / painting the body. However, it's probably not this linear - some logic may also be necessary for artistic expression and some symbolic project may be necessary to believe in your container and the colour of your ochre. I just made the above simplification to share and debate. Any other ideas?

  • werner.smidt - 2011-10-15 10:37

    Anyone else disappointed that "toolkit" didn't mean something computational?

      Megan - 2011-10-15 11:52


  • fanie.oosthuizen - 2011-10-15 13:42

    What is very interesting is that this professor manage to find this on his own property!! I grow up in that area and my father is a farmer nearby. He does not allow people to walk along the coast and is known to chase hikers away. According to people now in there 90's+ that so called cave was a resting place for fishermen who went out to the sea to fish and a few fishermen that drowned, was buried there. And now this prof discovers the start of mankind at Blombos on his own property! Hahahaha ....His theories are day dreaming....

      Marietjie - 2011-10-16 20:28

      Hallo Fanie. Snaaks hoe hedendaagse tegnologie alles en almal verbind. Ek was Hagen van Riversdal. Ons he ons Jongendfontein huis vroeer vanjaar verkoop. Wat vir my konneksie is dat ek nou op Wits bouwerk bestuur en so hier en daar van die akademisie ken - nie in hierdie geval nie. Dit gee my wel sin van trots wees dat daar konneksie is van herkoms en verbintenis. Goed gaan met julle en bewaar julle eiendom! Marietjie.

  • hadedah - 2011-10-16 18:07

    I think we must be careful not to jump to conclusions let science takes it cause and sift diligently through what has been found and then let us know the true facts. what are we looking at prehistoric man or more modern man the SAN (Bushman)?

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