CHINESE WRITING 8,000 YEARS OLD
Until recently, the beginnings of writing in the form of symbolic characters, not just pictures, was said to go back about 4,500 years. Now new discoveries in northwestern China may push the threshold of such writing back to 8,000 years ago. The Damaidi rock carvings were first discovered in the 1980’s and contained many primitive pictograms of the type found in similar settings around the world, but subsequent research has turned up more than 2,000 pictorial symbols which have been identified as Chinese or other ancient characters.
Not surprisingly, the announcement of the discovery has been greeted in many quarters with incredulity. Archaeology, in general, not just in China, is heavily invested in the notion that such developments did not occur until much later. Belief in the primitive condition of our early ancestors is one of the pillars of the modern notion of our own great advancement and superiority. The discovery of such accomplishments as writing at a time when people are not believed to have gotten far beyond the hunter-gatherer stage throws most of the academic calculations of our ancient history into confusion.
How long ago were humans doing the things that science now considers modern? Once again new evidence is emerging that it was longer ago than we once thought—a great deal longer.
The latest discoveries were made in Morocco where jewelry made from sea shell has been dated to 82,000 years ago—more than 40,000 years earlier than such adornments were thought to have been worn in Europe. According to a study published in June in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of Oxford University archaeologists led by professor Nick Barton found the ornaments in the Grotte de Pigeons, a cave in Eastern Morocco, during a five-year dig. Consisting of 12 Nassarius (mollusk) shells which had been covered with red ochre and pierced or drilled, apparently to be worn on a necklace or comparable bodily decoration. Scientists now say that similar beads have been turned up at sites in Algeria, Israel and South Africa which could be even older.
NEANDERTHALS WERE SMART, SAYS BRITISH SCIENTIST
The familiar stereotype of the stupid Neanderthal has taken another hit. In fact, now some scientists are arguing that Neanderthals, rather than being the ignorant brutes commonly believed, were actually smarter than Homo sapiens— us.
Dr. Terry Hopkinson of Leicester University in England is making the case that Neanderthals were actually capable of innovation and sophisticated toolmaking, and all of that hundreds of thousands of years before the modern light is said to have come on in our ancestors about 50,000 years ago in Africa. The supposedly modern traits identified by researchers include such things as the application of grindstones and elongated stone blades, big game hunting, and the use of abstract art. Now Hopkinson says the Neanderthals actually blended two different forms of toolmaking to adapt to the harsh climatic challenges which confronted them in their spread throughout Europe. The union of what Hopkinson calls faconnage and dibitage techniques reveals an ability to innovate, well in advance of equivalent developments in Homo sapiens’ history.
Some researchers, such as Colin Wilson, have argued that 10,000 years or more of lost Neanderthal history may well account for the development of Atlantis and other lost cultures (see “Atlantis and the Neanderthals.” A.R. #60). Those missing chapters in the story of civilization we humans do not recall because, say some, they are not our own history, and at their height, we were too primitive in our own development to comprehend them, and thus to remember them.
Shades of Planet of the Apes!