Skip to comments.Excalibur, The Rock That May Mark A New Dawn For Man
Posted on 01/09/2003 9:10:31 PM PST by blam
Excalibur, the rock that may mark a new dawn for man
Paleontologists claim 350,000-year-old find in Spanish cave pushes back boundary of early human evolution
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Thursday January 9, 2003
They have called it Excalibur, though it was plucked from a pit of bones rather than the stone of Arthurian legend. To the ordinary eye it is a hand-sized, triangular chunk of ochre and purple rock, its surface slightly scratched. But to the palaeontologists who found this axe-head buried in a deep cavern on a Spanish hilltop, it is proof of a terrible and defining moment in the evolutionary history of the human mind.
The discovery in a Spanish cave of what is claimed to be the world's oldest burial artefact was set to provoke a fierce scientific debate about the exact moment when man's mind was lit by the spark of imagination and creativity.
Palaeontologists who discovered the axe-head placed among ancient bones in a cave at Atapuerca, near the city of Burgos in central Spain, yesterday claimed that this key moment in the evolution of man's mind had to be placed at a time well before our own race, Homo sapiens, reached Europe.
Deliberately tossed into a primitive burial chamber, the placing of the axe was a ritual act and evidence that, in the minds of some very ancient Europeans, death had become something more than a mere, brutish fact of nature.
This idea first dawned more than 350,000 years ago on the squat, powerful examples of Homo heidelbergensis whose remains are being slowly excavated from the so-called Pit of Bones at Atapuerca.
The find means that man's development of a mind capable of thinking beyond reality and needs into a world of shared ideas, symbols, fantasy and imagination, may have developed 310,000 years earlier than was thought.
Controversy already rages in the palaeontological community over whether Homo sapiens was the first such deep thinker, or whether that honour goes to the slightly earlier neanderthal.
But it is generally thought that modern, thinking men and women did not arrive until 30-40,000 years ago, sparking a "creative explosion" that produced, among other things, the first art.
"The biggest debate in human evolution is when men's minds appeared, when the spark was lit," Ignacio Martinez, one of the Atapuerca team, told El Pais news paper. The only proof of that spark, he said, would come from rock art, the earliest examples of which are only 40,000 years old, from proof of language use or from burial ceremonies.
The discovery at Atapuerca, if it turned out to be a true example of a ceremonial burial, would be remarkable. As such, it can expect to raise bitter controversy.
Experts contacted by the Guardian yesterday said they were surprised and generally rather sceptical about Excalibur.
"If they could prove it, it would be staggering," said Dr Michael Petraglia, lecturer at Cambridge University's Leverhulme centre for human evolutionary studies. "It would push intentional or symbolic thought back much further than is currently accepted."
Excalibur goes on show for the first time this weekend at an exhibition of Atapuerca's work in the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. It is bound to provoke debate among the many scientists due to appear at the opening conferences.
The director of the Atapuerca dig, Dr Juan Luis Arsuaga, argued in an article in El Pais yesterday that the groups of Homo heidelbergensis probably brought their dead, one-by-one, into the cavern so they could be buried together. "It had to be a collective practice," he said.
"We had gradually become convinced that, incredible as it may seem given the age of the site, this was case of symbolic behaviour, the first of its kind in the history of humanity," he wrote.
"In order to demonstrate that we needed a symbolic object, with its own significance. Then Excalibur appeared from the sediment," he said. "The Pit of Bones had produced a new historic discovery."
But other scientists, while eager to see the written research, were sceptical, saying there did not seem to be proof that the axe had been deliberately placed. "There might be other reasons for it to be there," speculated Dr. Margarita Diaz-Andreu, a Durham University archaeologist.
Dr Petraglia said the find was "potentially exciting" but doubted that it was sufficient to reach such scientifically explosive conclusions about the development of the human mind. "We often have great difficulty in assessing if something is intentional," he said. "Often we require more evidence than one tool."
The Atapuerca team have produced some of the most remarkable palaeontological finds of the past decade, producing 350,000-year-old crania and proof that Homo heidelbergensis was a cannibal. They seemed yesterday to have the backing of at least one scientific heavyweight for their claims that these were also thinking, imaginative, potentially artistic cannibals.
The legendary French scientist Henry de Lumley, director of France's National Museum of Natural History, visited the cave and was told of Excalibur two years ago. He declared the combination of the two things to be "proof of the birth of the first human myths", according to El Pais.
The Pit of Bones, open for excavation for just one month a year, will be keeping archaeologists busy for decades. Excalibur, pulled from among those bones, looked set to spark a debate about the evolution of man's minds that could last just as long.
Even if Homo heidelbergensis was an intelligent, creative, artistic type, it did him no good. He eventually evolved into a neanderthal and then became extinct. Homo sapiens came out of Africa to replace him.
Finds that changed history
The Schoningen spears
In 1997, three wooden spears some 400,000 years old were found in an open-cast coalmine at Schoningen, Germany. The spears, weighted like modern javelins, were proof that the forerunners of homo sapiens could plan, cooperate and hunt
The Chauvet cave
Detailed paintings of lions, mammoths, and rhinoceroses were discovered in the Ardèche valley, southern France, in December 1994. The paintings were more than 30,000 years old, the earliest examples of such sophisticated art
A set of bird bones with holes drilled in them are believed to be the world's oldest playable musical instruments, dating back nearly 9,000 years. The flutes, excavated in the mid-Henan province of China in 1999, revealed a sophisticated knowledge of music-making
A team led by the US anthropologist Olga Soffer found ancient textile impressions on tiny clay fragments in Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic, evidence of cordage and textile production believed to be more than 27,000 years old, 17,000 years earlier than previously thought
The earliest definite evidence of nut-cracking using tools was found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel last year. Archaeologists found the remains of nuts dating back 780,000 years
The earliest evidence for the controlled use of fire was found at Swartkrans, South Africa, in the 60s. It is believed that the hominid responsible 1.5m years ago took a burning log from a naturally caused fire into the cave, but did not have the cognitive ability to make fire itself
That hypothesis is starting to look kind of shakey isn't it?
This find is huge....
Yup. We are Neanderthal.
A squat compact and robust body was necessary for the Ice Age. Because they were in the colder climates they covered their bodies which deprived them of vitamin 'D' and they turned white.
Yep. Getting rid of the murder weapon is yet another sign of human cognition...
I feel that eventually the fact that Neanderthal genes survive in Europeans will be ascertained.
This ancient flood perhaps explains why so many peoples in the Europe-Asian landmass have myths involving a cataclysmic flood.
I took a few minutes to decipher that post, and I must say I agree with a lot of what you said.
These were the Classical liberals...founding fathers-PRINCIPLES---stable/SANE scientific reality/society---industrial progress...moral/social character-values(private/personal) GROWTH(limited NON-intrusive PC Govt/religion---schools)!
Where you and I diverge is on the Evolution/Communism thing. You seem to view Darwin and evolution as the beginning of the end for enlighted, moral civilization, while I think Marx, class struggle, and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" are the true dangers.
God bless you, I think we both have a common enemy in the BRAVE-NWO.
452 posted on 9/7/02 8:54 PM Pacific by Dakmar
more . . .
quote . . .
Boris Yeltsin - - -
(parenthesis . . .my additions)
skip . . .
more . . .
one more . . .
start - - -
"I was a communist(DEVILCRAT // liberal // lunatic // evolutionist // maniac) for 30 years . . .
and I listened to so much of this demagoguery(lies // ideology // spin // left rhetoric) that now - - -
with my democratic(conservative // creationist // REPUBLICAN // calm) views - - -
I can no . . . longer(link) - - - stand it,"
stop ! ! !
Correction: we are both human, but different species of human. We are Cro-Magnon - they were Neanderthal. The DNA is different.
We did not evolve from Neanderthal, but we may very well have intermingled with them, and produced viable off-spring, though almost all of them would have been mules (unable to reproduce).
I think the correct word is a 'singularity', and describes a fundamental change in humanity. With the ever-accelerating advances in computer technology and bio-engineering, we may yet get to see one or more 'singularities'.
An 'Artificial-Intelligence' computer similar to HAL 9000, or an engineered-human-being with no disease and an incredibly long lifespan are visible in the near future.
Just food for thought - we'll probably kill them............FRegards
How do they know that? They'd have to have been eating other humans to be cannibals. It's more likely that they were eating the liberals who were trying to ban their stone axes...
Yup. Everything is getting older.
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