National Geographic : 2015 Jan
40 national geographic • january 2015 meaningless,” says Henshilwood. “ They said everything negative you could possibly think.” In time, however, others regarded it as a breakthrough. Soon more examples of symbol and orna- ment were uncovered. Henshilwood’s team discovered the shells of little sea snails called Nassarius that were some 75,000 years old and perforated, with evidence they had been strung together. Other finds were even older. Nassar ius beads have been dated to 82,000 years ago at a site called Grotte des Pigeons (Pigeon Cave) in Taforalt, Morocco. At the opposite end of the Mediterranean, similar beads from two Israeli caves, Qafzeh and Skhul, were dated to 92,000 and at least 100,000 years ago. Back in South Africa, a 2010 team led by the University of Bordeaux’s Pierre-Jean Texier reported finding 60,000-year-old engraved ostrich eggshells in Diepkloof Rock Shelter north of Cape Town. Meanwhile, Blombos itself kept yielding trea- sures: finely carved and decorated bone tools, and evidence that as long as 100,000 years ago the cave’s inhabitants had methodically ground ocher into fine powder and mixed it with other ingredients to make a paste. Stored in abalone shells—the earliest known containers—it could have been used as a decorative paint for bodies, faces, tools, or clothing. In 2009 Henshilwood reported finding more ocher and rocks marked with deliberate cross-hatchings, also dating as far back as 100,000 years. Compared with the jaw-dropping beauty of the art created in Chauvet Cave 65,000 years later, ar- tifacts like these seem rudimentary. But creating a simple shape that stands for something else—a symbol, made by one mind, that can be shared with others—is obvious only after the fact. Even more than the cave art, these first concrete expres- sions of consciousness represent a leap from our animal past toward what we are today—a species awash in symbols, from the signs that guide your n Society Grant The research on early art in South Africa and cave art in Spain was funded in part by your National Geographic Society membership.