National Geographic : 1997 Jul
,2 million years ago Present Bilzingsle n 412,000 to 320, Looking beyond the bulging brow of an ancient human, archaeologist Dietrich Mania (left) sees "conspicuous evidence" of complex social activity as early as 412,000 years ago at Bilzingsleben in eastern Germany. Hominids Mania regards as advanced Homo erectus used diverse tools crafted from stone, bone, antler, and wood to hunt and butcher rhinos, elephants, and bison. An elephant leg bone fragment (below) carries 28 marks Mania calls "deliberately, regularly engraved cut lines," which he believes "indicate abstract thinking and symbolic behavior." Interpreted as a permanently occupied campsite, Bilzingsleben preserves evidence of structures and a paved space for group rituals (bottom) that may have included crushing and scattering human remains. be accidental. They are graphic symbols. To us it's evidence of abstract thinking and human language." Most specialists would argue that those engravings, dated at around 400,000 years ago, are much too old to represent sym bolic thinking, often regarded as a defining trait of the modern human mind. But if Mania is correct, humans of this antiquity in Europe-and probably elsewhere-were far more advanced in their thinking than scientists have imagined. BY 350,000 YEARS AGO glaciers blanketed northern Europe, and humans became scarce on the landscape there. How ever, they continued to live in warmer regions. In 1993 another Spanish team working in the Sierra de Atapuerca announced the dis covery of the remains of at least 32 individuals dating back 300,000 years.