The Earliest Form of Art

W. Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam
W. Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam

Art is something that has always been attributed only to Homo sapiens.

The earliest evidence of art dates back to more than one hundred thousand years ago and was found in a cave in Blombos, South Africa, and it was a piece of ochre embedded with cross-like patterns.

According to recent findings, the earliest forms of art are a lot older, so Homo sapiens have to relinquish their place at the top.

During 1891, Dutch anthropologist, Eugene Dubois, makes a stunning discovery on the Indonesian island of Java – he digs up the bones of one of the ancestors of present day humans – Homo erectus. These ancestors of ours lived more than two million years ago in Africa, and later in Europe and Asia as well.

In proximity to the remains, archaeologists discover a pile consisting of around two hundred shells but they remain neglected for a long time. Then, they are taken in a storage facility in Leiden, Holland.

Only just in 2007, archeologist Josephine Joordens, examined the shells more closely and noticed something incredible. A crooked, line can be seen on one of the shells and it doesn’t appear to be a natural formation.

Studies have shown that those shells are between 430 000 and 540 000 years old, dating back to the time of Homo erectus. These findings pose the question whether on the island of Java, human beings or their ancestors were responsible for the creation of the concept of art.

Art or a complete coincidence?

Ever since the discovery of the shells archeologists have been arguing about the nature of the strange engraving. Some of them believe that it is not very likely that the earliest humans created the lines on the shell on purpose and even less likely that they perceived it as art.

It is quite possible that this is just a coincidence. Those who are skeptical add that there are almost no findings to support the exact method of the development of art during the Homo erectus era.

Joordens and her collogues support their thesis, stating that certain skills are needed to carve such zigzag-like lines, and such phenomena does not happen by accident.