Marks on an ancient shell lead to a re-think of human history

Bibliographic Collection: 
CARTA-Inspired Publication
Publication Type: Web Article
Authors: Davidson, I.
Year of Publication: 2014
Series Title: The Conversation
Publication Language: eng

Zig-zag markings have been discovered on a shell found at Trinil in Java that dates back to between 430,000 and 540,000 years ago, from the site where the original specimens of Homo erectus were found.The sensational find, published in Nature today, moves credible arguments for modern human behaviour back in time and suggests it was practised by an even older species of human ancestor. It also shifts the focus firmly outside Africa and Europe.Has the still-accepted view of human evolution been biased by preconceptions arising from the interpretation of the 19th century finds in Europe?Homo erectus is well-known to the public as “Java Man” from Indonesia – the species likely responsible for this find – and “Peking Man” from Zhoukoudien, in northern China.Homo erectus was originally found at Trinil, and the shell find in today’s publication was recovered during the excavation campaigns around that original discovery in the 1890s.Although there are the usual debates about how ancestral human species should be identified from skeletal remains from the last 3-million years, there is general agreement that something like Homo erectus was one of the earliest species in Africa to be a certain ancestor of other species of humans, including ourselves, from about 1.89-million years ago.Long before Neanderthals emerged in Europe, or modern humans left Africa, ultimately to colonise Australia and the Americas, Homo erectus also left Africa and reached Dmanisi in Georgia (1.77-million years ago), Java (1.5-million years ago), northern China (700,000 years ago) and probably Europe (900,000 years ago, although European workers tend to use different names for the species there).