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Human ancestors engraved abstract patterns

Indonesian Homo erectus carved zigzags on a mussel shell

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1:00pm, December 3, 2014
design carved into shell

SHELL GAME  A geometric design carved into this shell may indicate that human ancestors took up at least one form of “modern human behavior” long before Homo sapiens came along.

A member of the now-extinct hominid species Homo erectus engraved a geometric design on a sea shell nearly half a million years ago, long before the earliest evidence of comparable etchings made by modern humans, researchers say.

Fossil mussel shells excavated more than a century ago at an H. erectus site on the Indonesian island of Java include a shell with engravings of an M shape, two parallel lines and a reversed N shape, the scientists report December 3 in Nature. Another shell contains an intentionally sharpened edge with a polished surface, indicating it was used as a cutting or scraping tool, they say.

Abstract and perhaps symbolic forms of thinking associated with such creations preceded the evolutionary origins of Homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago, say archaeologist Josephine Joordens of Leiden University in the Netherlands and her

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