Sunday, July 6, 2014

African Stone, Shell, and Egg Technologies

These 65,000-year ostrich eggshells with similar geometric patterns
demonstrate commonality among Paleolithic peoples in Africa.

Alice C. Linsley

Africa is archaeologically rich. Artifacts of stone, shell and egg abound throughout the continent. The age of settlements in Sudan has been pushed back to 70,000 years ago. 

Stone, shell and ostrich eggs were widely used for tools, ornaments and utensils. Ostrich eggs were used to carry water and were decorated. A large cache of ostrich eggshells engraved with geometric designs demonstrates symbolic communication among African hunter-gatherers. The decorated ostrich eggs date to 65,000 years. Such eggshells were placed in the graves of children in Sudan.

Ostrich eggs were used in prehistoric times throughout the Nile valley as perfume containers, bowls for ablutions, and as canteens. Ostrich feathers were worn in the hair of warriors and rulers of ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian goddess Ma'at is shown with an ostrich feather in her hair. She weighed the hearts of the dead to determine who would enter eternal life. Painted ostrich eggs have been found in tombs at Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) and in many graves of children in ancient Nubia. The ostrich represents the Winter Solstice. The ostrich is placed between the Bull (symbol of the Autumnal Equinox) and the Griffin Vulture (symbol of the Spring Equinox) in Elihu's discourse on the transcendence of the Creator in the book of Job.

Dating from 82,000 years ago, these beads are thought to be the oldest in the world.
(Credit: Marian Vanhaeren and Francesco d'Errico / 2007

These 82,000 years perforated shell beads were unearthed by archaeologists in the Cave of Pigeons in Taforalt, north-east Morocco. The cache consisted of 13 shells belonging to the species Nassarius gibbosulus. Some of the shell beads are covered with red ocher.

The stone tools discovered with the shells were sharp biface points typical of Aterian technology in North Africa. They were probably used as spearheads.

1.8 million stone axes

Artifacts from around 75,000 years ago unearthed from Still Bay at Blombos Cave, South Africa.
a) bifacial foliate point, b) bone tool, c) engraved ochre, d) shell beads, e) engraved bone.
(Credit: Christopher Henshilwood)

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