Researchers report* evidence of ancient human symbolic culture in the Wallacea zone of eastern Indonesia. Anatomically modern humans (AMHs) had colonized Wallacea by 47,000 years ago, but evidence of the cultural complexity associated with AMHs from the same period elsewhere in the world has been sparse. Adam Brumm and colleagues describe artifacts recovered from a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi dated from 30,000-22,000 years ago. Some of the artifacts were bones and teeth of endemic animals modified into ornaments, including a bear cuscus bone likely to have been worn as a pendant and previously undocumented disc-shaped beads manufactured from the teeth of babirusas, also known as “pig-deer.” Several stone flakes were incised with various geometric patterns, possibly representing a form of portable art. The authors also found evidence for the use of pigment, such as ochre pieces with traces from scraping and grinding, ochre residues on stone artifacts, and a hollow long bone with traces of red and black pigment that may have been used as a kind of airbrush for creating rock art. According to the authors, the artifacts suggest the existence of a distinct symbolic culture in Wallacea that incorporated animals unique to the region.
Map showing Wallacea. Altaileopard, Wikimedia Commons
Article Source: PNAS news release.
*“Early human symbolic behavior in the Late Pleistocene of Wallacea,” by Adam Brumm et al.
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