Australian researchers have led a dig which they say has shed new light on the dawn of civilized humans.
Archaeologists from the Australian National University (ANU) have unearthed a treasure trove of items from a cave in Kenya, giving researchers fresh insight into a crucial time period when Homo sapiens first started showing signs of modern behavior.
The Panga ya Saidi cave is the only known site in East Africa with an unbroken archaeological record of human inhabitation.
In a statement released by the university, Dr Ceri Shipton from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language said the site “has a continuous record with people there right up until 500 years ago”.
“It is the most beautiful site I have ever worked on. As soon as I saw it I knew it was special,” he said
The archaeologists discovered more than 30,000 items at the site including crayons and shell beads that date back nearly 50,000 years.
“The site has amazing levels of preservation with so many of the artifacts in mint condition,” Dr. Shipton said.
The researchers involved with the project said it was allowing them to better understand the Later Stone Age — a period of time beginning about 67,000 years ago associated with the rise of modern human behavior and culture in Africa.
“You start to see things like decorated bones, beads made from marine shell or ostrich eggs, miniaturzied stone tools, and bones carved into things like arrow points. This is the oldest date we have for when this behavior is first observed,” he said.
“Previous sites relating to this early period of modern humanbehaviorr have all been in South Africa and the East African Rift Valley, this is the first site on the coast of East Africa and the first with such a continuous record.”
The research was published Wednesday in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.
It’s unusual to find early Homo sapiens living in a tropical forest rather than open grasslands where there are large animals to hunt. The early humans living in these caves would have forested for berries and hunted smaller animals like monkeys and small deer.
Researchers hypothesized that such tribes would potentially have needed more sophisticated tools to hunt in such environments.
“What is striking about this record is the innovations you see in technology and material culture, and the ability to exploit both forest and savanna environments. It is this kind ofbehaviorall flexibility that allowed our species to populate the rest of the world outside of Africa,” Dr Shipton said.
Of more than 30,000 items found at the site, some of the most remarkable include 48,000 year old red ochre crayons and engraved bones and the archaeologists were struck by the high-level preservation of theartifactss.
“The stone tools are still sharp. The beads and engraved bones have survived intact which is really rare,” Dr. Shipton said.
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.