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Made in India Magazine | November 27, 2020

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WORLD’S OLDEST ENGRAVING

WORLD’S OLDEST ENGRAVING
Gaurav Malhotra

Human beings are pattern-seeking animals. So far, we’ve thought that Homo Sapiens is the first species with pattern-making ability. But a new finding challenges this claim, potentially turning our knowledge of human evolution on its head.

Every once in a while, especially in the field of evolutionary biology, a new finding comes up that challenges the accepted wisdom of the past. These generally occur when scientists are busy looking for something else. As a great man once said about scientific discoveries: most of them don’t start with ‘Eureka!’ but with ‘That’s funny…’
A similar incident happened late last year when a routine project to catalogue museum specimens threw up a chiselled shell dating back 500,000 years. It was discovered by chance among a hundred other images of shells, photographed to determine whether they belong to a natural or a man-made assemblage.
The shell fossils had geometric patterns etched into them, like zigzag grooves, and holes in the precise locations where it would be easiest to open the shell. What this means is that while scientists have been thinking that the oldest engravings so far date from the early Homo Sapiens period, it could be that our closest ancestors, Homo Erectus, also had modern cognitive abilities that allowed him to spot and create patterns.
This is only the first piece found from this period, opening the door to fresh possibilities in that we could in the future find more such pieces because we will begin to actively look for them. So far, all we know is that a human-made pattern has been found on a shell that is dating back over half a million years, which means that our predecessors also had pattern-seeking and pattern-making behaviour.
Though there is still debate on whether the patterns on the shells are man-made or natural, this has the potential to upturn much of what we know about human evolution.

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