Marean weighs in on the debate over oldest human art

By

Rebecca Howe

Researchers are currently debating whether or not designs found in a South African cave are the oldest known examples of human art. The pieces of scraped, ground and engraved rock from the Eastern Cape’s BlombosCave are estimated to be at least 70,000 years old, more than twice the age of previous finds.

Professor Christopher Henshilwood of the University of the Witwatersrand and his team of researchers are convinced the two red ochre plaques were deliberately engraved, indicating modern human behavior.

But Curtis Marean, a professor in ArizonaStateUniversity’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and associate director of the Institute of Human Origins in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is cautious about labeling the findings as art without further inquiry. Marean, who made international headlines in 2007 with his own South African discovery — evidence of the earliest modern humans, which included indications of diet expansion, pigment use and bladelet stone tool technology — notes that there may be other explanations. He believes the marks on the red ochre could simply be stone-tool incisions, not deliberate art.

Henshilwood and his colleagues plan to publish their findings in an upcoming Journal of Human Evolution.