Blombos Cave is a cave in a calcarenite limestone cliff on the Southern Cape coast in South Africa. It is an archaeological site made famous by the discovery of 75,000-year-old pieces of ochre engraved with abstract designs and beads made from Nassarius shells, and c. 80,000-year-old bone tools. Some of the earliest evidence for shellfishing and possibly fishing has been discovered at the site and dates to c. 140,000 years ago.
Excavations carried out since 1991 at Blombos Cave provide snapshots of life in the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) in the southern Cape, South Africa. Three phases of MSA occupation have been identified and named M1, M2 and M3. Dating by the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and thermoluminescence (TL) methods has provided occupation dates for each phase: these are about 71,000 BCE for the M1 phase, about 78,000 BCE for the M2 phase, and between 100,000 and 140,000 BCE for the M3 phase.
The evidence indicates periods of relatively brief occupation separated by long periods of non-occupation, including a separation between occupation during the Late Stone Age (LSA) and the Middle Stone Age. Bone tools, marine shell beads, and engraved ochre were found in the M1 phase, bone tools in the Upper M2 phase, and considerable quantities of ochre and associated ochre working tools in the M3 phase.
Excavation history and stratigraphy 
Blombos Cave is some 100 metres (330 ft) from the coast and 35 metres (115 ft) above sea level. The cave is a wave-cut bench in Mio/Pliocene Wankoe Formation aeolian deposits. Interior cave deposits, including those in recesses, cover more than 80 square metres (860 sq ft). About 20 square metres (220 sq ft) of the MSA has been excavated to a depth of about 2 metres (6.6 ft) below the original surface. The depositional history of the MSA levels is complex. Probably just prior to the accumulation of the M3 phase, large calcrete roof blocks up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) thick were dislodged creating a variable and uneven floor surface. Further rockfall onto the MSA deposits occurred after the M3 phase occupation at circa 130–140 ka.
Subsequent human occupation left debris scattered over and around these blocks up to a height of more than 2 metres (6.6 ft). Compaction has caused deposits to drape over and around large spalls with some examples of near vertical layering. Near the rear and side cave wall, MSA deposits have in some instances shrunk, leaving a gap that later filled with LSA deposits. In places large rocks have shifted or broken, causing shearing of deposits and infills. Despite these anomalies, most MSA deposits are in situ and undisturbed. By identifying and excluding material from contaminated areas, archaeologists are confident of the integrity of more than 95 per cent of recovered MSA material.
Artifacts and fauna 
Principal markers of the M1 phase are bifacial foliate points, typical of the Stillbay, both complete and in various stages of manufacture. More than 400 have been recovered. Silcrete is the dominant raw material and the nearest source is circa 30 kilometres (19 mi). Large numbers of small flakes occur indicating on-site production of these artefacts. Some of the points show fractures which were interpreted as the result of their use as spear points. According to an experimental study of the points, shaping of the points could have been achieved through pressure flaking, a technique that was previously believed to appear first in Europe 20,000 years ago as part of the Solutrean toolkit.
More than 60 beads manufactured from Nassarius kraussianus gastropod shells have been recovered. Twenty-seven of these beads may derive from a single personal ornament. Two chunks of ochre engraved with geometric patterns and more than 15 bone tools come from the M1 phase. M2 phase markers are the more than 20 bone tools and a marked reduction in bifacial technology. In the M3 phase, bifacial flaking and bone tools disappear. Silcrete is still dominant, but there are fewer retouched tools. Striated ochre, particularly in large chunk form, is common in these levels. Ochre processing tools include lower and upper grindstones and hammerstones. Dense shellfish middens characterise the lower layers with very large hearths.
Faunal remains from the three MSA phases show that a wide range of terrestrial resources were exploited. More than a thousand fish bones, many from large fish, marine shells, seals and dolphins,attest to extensive exploitation of aquatic resources and suggest exploitation patterns not dissimilar to those of LSA people in this region. Nine human teeth, mostly deciduous, have been recovered from the MSA levels, but no other human skeletal material. The teeth probably derive from fairly gracile individuals and are similar to samples recovered at Klasies River Caves and De Kelders.
Engraved ochre and its interpretation 
The date of engraved ochre is now firmly established. The use of abstract symbolism on the engraved pieces of ochre and the presence of a complex tool kit suggests Middle Stone Age people were behaving in a cognitively modern way and had the advantages of syntactical language at least 80,000 years ago.
Human activity 
Human remains from the cave include four teeth found in 1998, of which two are heavily worn deciduous teeth and two are incomplete permanent premolar crowns. Marks on the premolars may indicate the use of toothpicks. Another five dental specimens were unearthed in the cave during 1999–2000
In 2010, a study headed by Vincent Mourre under the auspices of the University of Toulouse found evidence that prehistoric humans had used the technique of pressure flaking to shape stone into tools. The researchers said that the remains of stone points, likely used as spear points or knives, that were carved using pressure flaking had been found that were around 75,000 years old. Previously, it had been believed that pressure flaking had been invented only around 20,000 years ago, in parts of France. The study examined 127 separate artefacts, all made from silcrete, a difficult material to work with, especially compared to flint, which was the rock in which previous evidence of pressure flaking had been found. Of the 127 points found, around three-fifths appeared to have been produced using pressure flaking.
According to an official at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, Paola Villa, the French team's discovery was "important because it shows that modern humans in South Africa had a sophisticated repertoire of tool-making techniques at a very early time." However, Curtis Marean, an archaeologist from the Arizona State University, said that although the results are plausible, he remains unconvinced that the researchers had based their conclusions on mathematical data, expressing concerns that the results were too reliant on more subjective observations of the tools discovered.
Mourre's University of Toulouse study follows upon the earlier 2008 Stillbay study by Zenobia Jacobs, of the University of Wollongong, Australia who dated Still Bay silcrete tools at 71,000–71,900 years BP (Before Present), pushing the culture's advent back a further few thousand years if Mourre's team's dating is accepted.
The M1 phase (oxygen isotope stage 5a/4) occupation occurs during a period of falling sea levels (c. 60–70 m or 200–230 ft below present sea levels and 10–25 km or 6.2–16 mi from present coastline) that is arguably colder than during M2. Donax serra, a sand-burrowing white mussel, occurs in the M1 phase suggesting beach conditions in front of the cave. Densities of shell are lowest in this phase (17.5 kg/m3 or 29.5 lb/cu yd) probably because of the distance of the coast from the cave. M2 phase occupations fall within OI 5a with sea levels circa 25 metres (82 ft) lower than present and a coastline less than 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the present shore. Intermediate densities of shell occur in M2 (31.8 kg/m3 or 53.6 lb/cu yd). Climatic conditions may have been temperate and warmer than during M1 occupations. The upper part of the M3 phase (CH/CI layers) is a high-density shell midden (68.4 kg/m3 or 115.3 lb/cu yd), suggesting sea levels similar to those of the present. These upper levels arguably fall just after the Eemian period (OI 5d; c. 100 ka. Temperatures were probably 1 to 2 °C (2 to 4 °F) warmer than present with higher sea levels (+3 m or +10 ft). An OSL date of c. 143 ka (OI 6) for a low-density occupation level (layer CJ) in M3 suggests the M3 phase may need further subdivision when more dates are available.
See also 
- Botha, Rudolf P; Chris Knight (2009). The cradle of language. Oxford University Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-19-954585-8.
- P. Mellars, K. Boyle, O. Bar-Yosef and C. Stringer, ed. (October 2007). Rethinking the Human Revolution: New Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origin and Dispersal of Modern Humans. McDonald Institute Monographs. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. ISBN 1-902937-46-5.
- Villa, P., Soressi, M., Henshilwood, C.S. and Mourre, V. (2009) – « The Still Bay points of Blombos Cave (South Africa) », Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 36, 2, pp. 441–460.
- Mourre, V., Villa, P. and Henshilwood, C.S. (2010) – « Early use of pressure flaking on lithic artifacts at Blombos Cave, South Africa », Science, vol. 330, n° 6004, pp. 659–662.
- "picture". Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- "'Oldest' prehistoric art unearthed". BBC News. 10 January 2002. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- Renfrew, Colin (2008). "Neuroscience, evolution and the sapient paradox: the factuality of value and of the sacred". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences 363 (1499): 2041. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0010. PMC 2606703. PMID 18292058.
- Grine, F.; Henshilwood, S.; Sealy, C. (Jun 2000). "Human remains from Blombos Cave, South Africa: (1997-1998 excavations).". Journal of Human Evolution 38 (6): 755–765. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0379. ISSN 0047-2484. PMID 10835260.
- "Erratum Human remains from Blombos Cave, South Africa (1997—1998 excavations)". Journal of Human Evolution 40 (4): 363–364. 2001. doi:10.1006/jhev.2001.0457.
- Grine, F; Henshilwood, CS (2002). "Additional human remains from Blombos Cave, South Africa: (1999–2000 excavations)". Journal of Human Evolution 42 (3): 293. doi:10.1006/jhev.2001.0525. PMID 11846532.
- Smith, Tanya M. Olejniczak, Anthony J. Tafforeau, Paul Reid, Donald J. Grine, Fredrick E. Hublin, Jean-Jacques (2006). "Molar crown thickness,volume,and development in South African Middle Stone Age humans". South African journal of Science 102 (11 & 12): 513–517. ISSN 00382353.
- "Stone Age Toolmakers Surprisingly Sophisticated". Science. 28 October 2010. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- "New evidence for early method to make stone tools". MSNBC.com. 28 October 2010. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- Jones, Cheryl. Nature. 30 October 2008. 3 Nov 2008 Technological innovation may have driven first human migration.
Further reading 
- d’Errico, F. & Henshilwood, C.S. 2007. Additional evidence for bone technology in the southern African Middle Stone Age. Journal of Human Evolution 52:142–163.
- Henshilwood, C.S. 2006. Modern humans and symbolic behaviour: Evidence from Blombos Cave, South Africa. In Origins (ed. G. Blundell). Cape Town: Double Storey: 78–83.
- Henshilwood, C. S. & Marean, C. W. 2006. Remodelling the origins of modern human behaviour. In : The Prehistory of Africa: Tracing the lineage of modern man (ed. H. Soodyall). Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers: 31–46.
- Henshilwood, C.S. & d’Errico, F. 2005. Being modern in the Middle Stone Age: Individuals and innovation. In The Individual hominid in context: Archaeological investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic landscapes, locales and artefacts. (eds. C. Gamble & M. Porr).Routledge (Taylor Francis): 244–264
- Henshilwood, C. S. 2005. Stratigraphic integrity of the Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave. In From Tools to Symbols. From Early Hominids to Modern Humans. (eds. F. d’Errico & L. Backwell). Johannesburg, Witwatersrand University Press: 441–458.
- d’Errico, F., Henshilwood, C., Vanhaeren, M., van Niekerk. K. 2005. Nassarius kraussianus shell beads from Blombos Cave: Evidence for symbolic behaviour in the Middle Stone Age. Journal of Human Evolution 48:3–24.
- Henshilwood, C.S. 2004. The Origins of Modern Human Behaviour: Exploring the African evidence. In Combining the Past and the Present: Archaeological perspectives on society. (eds. T. Oestigaard, N. Anfinset and T. Saetersdal). BAR International Series 1210: 95–106.
- Henshilwood, C.S., d’Errico, F., Vanhaeren, M., van Niekerk, K., Jacobs, Z. 2004. Middle Stone Age shell beads from South Africa. Science, 384:404.
- Henshilwood, C.S. & Marean, C.W. 2003. The origin of modern human behaviour: A review and critique of models and test implications. Current Anthropology 44 (5): 627–651
- d’Errico F., Henshilwood C., Lawson G., Vanhaeren M., Soressi M., Bresson F., Tillier A.M., Maureille B., Nowell A., Backwell L., Lakarra J.A., Julien M. 2003. The search for the origin of symbolism, music and language: a multidisciplinary endeavour. Journal of World Prehistory, 17 (1): 1–70.
- Henshilwood, C.S., d’Errico, F., Yates, R., Jacobs, Z., Tribolo, C., Duller, G.A.T., Mercier N., Sealy, J.C., Valladas, H., Watts, I. & Wintle, A.G. 2002. Emergence of Modern Human Behaviour: Middle Stone Age engravings from South Africa. Science 295:1278–1280.
- Grine, F.E. & Henshilwood, C.S. 2002. Additional Human Remains from Blombos Cave, South Africa: (1999–2000 excavations). Journal of Human Evolution 42: 293–302.
- Henshilwood, C.S., Sealy, J.C., Yates, R.J., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F.E.,, Klein, R.G., Poggenpoel, C., van Niekerk, K.L., Watts, I. 2001a. Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa: Preliminary report on the 1992 – 1999 excavations of the Middle Stone Age levels. Journal of Archaeological Science 28(5): 421–448.
- Henshilwood, C.S., d’Errico, F.E., Marean, C.W., Milo, R.G., Yates, R. 2001b. An early bone tool industry from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa: implications for the origins of modern human behaviour, symbolism and language. Journal of Human Evolution 41:631–678.
- d’Errico, F., Henshilwood, C.S., & Nilssen, P. 2001. An engraved bone fragment from ca. 75 kyr Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa: implications for the origin of symbolism . Antiquity. 75, 309–18.
- Grine, F.E., Henshilwood, C.S. & Sealy, J.C. 2000. Human remains from Blombos Cave, South Africa: (1997–1998 excavations). Journal of Human Evolution, 37: 755–765.
- Henshilwood, C.S. 1997 Identifying the collector: Evidence for human consumption of the Cape dune mole-rat, Bathyergus suillus, from Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 24:659–662.
- Henshilwood, C.S. & Sealy, J.C. 1997. Bone artefacts from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, southern Cape, South Africa. Current Anthropology 38(5):890–895.
- Henshilwood, C. S. 1996. A revised chronology for the arrival of pastoralism in southernmost Africa: new evidence of sheep at ca. 2000 b.p. from Blombos Cave, South Africa. Antiquity 70:945–949.
- Dating the Blombos deposits
- Jacobs, Z. Duller, G.A.T. Henshilwood, C.S. Wintle, A.G. 2006. Extending the chronology of deposits at Blombos Cave, South Africa, back to 140 ka using optical dating of single and multiple grains of quartz. Journal of Human Evolution 51: 255–273.
- Tribolo, C., Mercier, N., Selo, M., Joron, J-L., Reyss, J-L., Henshilwood, C., Sealy, J. & Yates, R. 2006. TL dating of burnt lithics from Blombos Cave (South Africa): further evidence for the antiquity of modern human behaviour. Archaeometry, 48 (2): 341–357.
- Jacobs, Z. Duller, G.A.T., Wintle, A.G. & Henshilwood, C.S. 2006.Extending the chronology of deposits at Blombos Cave, South Africa, back to 140 ka using optical dating of single and multiple grains of quartz. Journal of Human Evolution 51: 255–273.
- Jacobs, Z., Wintle, A. G. & Duller, G. A. T. (2003a). Optical dating of dune sand from Blombos Cave, South Africa: I—multiple grain data. J. Hum. Evol. 44, 599 – 612.
- Jacobs, Z., Duller, G. A. T. & Wintle, A. G. (2003b). Optical dating of dune sand from Blombos Cave, South Africa: II—single grain data. J. Hum. Evol. 44, 613 – 625.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Blombos Cave|
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