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Humans and Seashells

Hakai Magazine discusses the interesting relationship between humans and seashells, going beyond art and collections.

Humans’ affection for shells is older than our species. Half a million years ago, Homo erectus, a precursor to modern Homo sapiens, sharpened the edge of a freshwater mussel shell on what’s now the Indonesian island of Java. Archaeologists found this simple tool among a pile of shells surrounding Homo erectus bones, invoking a vision of an archaic human squatting in the jungle, prying open mussels and slurping down the calories he needed to survive.

Homo erectus weren’t just using mussels for tools and food, though. Among the shells, archaeologists also found one bearing a remarkable zigzag pattern. Analysis revealed it to be the world’s oldest-known engraving, predating similar carvings by 300,000 years. That means before Neanderthals painted abstract designs onto cave walls in Spain, before people even mastered the art of making fire, someone created beauty by drawing on a shell, projecting some part of themselves onto the natural world.

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