Early German flutes, 43,000 years old, excavated "from the site of Geißenklösterle made from mammoth ivory. (Credit: Image courtesy of Tübingen University)." Image Source: Science Daily.
The latest finds in Palaeontology, based on new technologies, keep changing the dates of Prehistory for early hominids and archaic and modern humans. It is hard for the public to keep track. The Stone Age began about 2.7 million years ago. According to current findings, Homo erectus may have begun seafaring a staggering one million years ago; and the use of fire has also recently been dated at about one million years ago (much earlier than previously believed). Archaic Homo sapiens date back to about 600,000 years ago (these are: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and may also include an earlier species, Homo antecessor). It is no wonder that some palaeontologists believe that human species are evolving in 100,000 year cycles. Researchers are currently studying DNA and computer models to simulate 500,000 years of population dynamics in order that they may better understand early hominids and humans.
The earliest sophisticated seafaring is currently theorized to have been conducted by Neanderthals around 100,000 years ago.
Now, BBC reports that modern human civilization is 44,000 years old (Hat tips: It's Okay to be Smart; Brain Picker). This date for modern human culture is older than previously expected, by about 20,000 years:
The artifacts include poisoned arrowheads (the development of poison is signficant), beads and beeswax.The earliest unambiguous evidence for modern human behaviour has been discovered by an international team of researchers in a South African cave.
The finds provide early evidence for the origin of modern human behaviour 44,000 years ago, over 20,000 years before other findings. The artefacts are near identical to modern-day tools of the indigenous African San bush people. The research was published yesterday in PNAS.
Even so, modern human civilization may well be older than than 44,000 years old. BBC qualifies its report, noting that other, modern-styled cultural objects have been found that are 75,000 years old. But BBC takes the 44,000 year old findings as "unambiguous."
Pyrotechnology - the sophisticated use of fire to engineer tools out of stone, is now dated at 72,000 years ago. With pyrotechnology came the rise of the arts. The oldest pigment factory for making paints for cave painting is dated at 100,000 years ago. Music accompanied these paintings. Researchers find paintings were most densely designed in the areas of caves where vocal and instrumental sounds resonate best. Archaeologists suggest that Stone Age people sang songs, accompanied by bone or ivory flutes, in areas surrounded by cave paintings. One assumes that the music was accompanied by exciting story-telling and perhaps dramatics under vibrant paintings of animals: a Stone Age equivalent to Friday night at the IMAX, if you will. The earliest discovered bead and ornamental shell manufacturing dates to about 110,000 years ago.
Consider that anatomically modern human species, which we would recognize as being and looking like ourselves, evolved 200,000 years ago. There are researchers who argue that these early modern humans were not so different from us in terms of behaviour.
The last interaction between archaic human Neanderthals and modern humans is currently estimated at around 24,000 years ago. Written history began 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. But if modern human culture actually runs back to 44,000 years ago, that means that instead of 18,000 years of unrecorded history of modern human species (as I discussed here and here), we must ponder a whopping 38,000 years of unrecorded history of modern humans. And if we find evidence that modern humans had cultures running back to around 100,000 years ago (or further, say, 165,000 years ago!), then we are looking at 94,000 to 159,000 years of unrecorded human history.
It is no wonder that the spiritual and psychological frameworks of those early peoples' worlds - the remnants of their oral traditions, their superstitions, fears, religions and mythologies - continually haunt us in the present moment. Our legends bear the great invisible weight of 100,000 years or more of memories and culture, lost in time.
See all my posts on Prehistory.