500,000 Year Old Engraving Rewrites View of Human History

Posted by on December 3, 2014 in Sci-Tech, Science with 1 Comment
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Richard Ingham | Phys

Detail of the engraving on fossil Pseudodon shell (DUB1006-fL) from Trinil Credit: Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam

Detail of the engraving on fossil Pseudodon shell (DUB1006-fL) from Trinil Credit: Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam

Anthropologists on Wednesday said they had found the earliest engraving in human history on a fossilised mollusc shell some 500,000 years old, unearthed in colonial-era Indonesia.

The zigzag scratching, together with evidence that these shells were used as a tool, should prompt a rethink about the mysterious early human called Homo erectus, they said.


The discovery comes through new scrutiny of 166 freshwater mussel shells found at Trinil, on the banks of the Bengawan Solo river in East Java, where one of the most sensational finds in fossil-hunting was made.

It was here in 1891 that an adventurous Dutch palaeontologist, Eugene Dubois, found “Java Man.”

With a couple of army sergeants and convict labour to do the digging, Dubois excavated part of a heavy-browed skull, a tooth and a thigh bone.

He interpreted these as being the remains of a gibbon-like hominid that was the long-sought “missing link” between apes and humans.

Dubois' claim excited fierce controversy, as well as jokey images of our distant ancestors as slack-jawed primates with dragging knuckles.

Palaeontologists eventually categorised the find as a Homo erectus, or “upright human”—a hominid that according to sketchy and hugely debated fossil evidence lived from around 1.9 million years ago to about 150,000 years ago.

Reporting in the science journal Nature, a team led by Josephine Joordens at Leiden University in the Netherlands, harnessed 21st-century technology to take a new look at the Trinil shells, now housed in a local collection.


Carbon dating of sediment found in the shells put their age at between 430,000 and 540,000 years ago.

A third of the shells were also found to have a curious hole at the base of one of the bivalve's muscles.

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  1. tim.webb12@yahoo.co.uk' Tim says:

    When you understand that C14 has a half-life of 5700 years, then you realise that this methodology cannot be sensibly used for dating artifacts that claim to be 1/2 million years old.
    C14 is produced in the upper atmosphere by the irradiation of nitrogen gas; thus it is never a very quantitatively significant gas in the atmosphere; accordingly thereore, it is never incorporated in significant amounts into animals or plants; and we are looking at amounts in this specimen which will have undergone 85 halvings of concentration.
    The entire paradigm is fatally flawed. Homo Erectus is a variant of modern man. Modern man has been around for 6000 years only.

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