The Makapansgat pebble, or the pebble of many faces, (ca. 3,000,000 BP) is a 260-gram reddish-brown jasperite cobble with natural chipping and wear patterns that make it look like a crude rendition of a human face. The pebble is interesting in that it was found some distance from any possible natural source, associated with the bones of Australopithecus africanus in a cave in Makapansgat, South Africa. Though it is definitely not a manufactured object, it has been suggested that some australopithecine, might have recognized it as a symbolic face, in possibly the earliest example of symbolic thinking or aesthetic sense in the human heritage, and brought the pebble back to the cave. This would make it a candidate for the oldest known manuport.
The teacher Wilfred I. Eizman found it in the Makapansgat, a dolerite cave in the Makapan Valley north of Mokopane, Limpopo, South Africa in 1925. Almost 50 years later, Raymond Dart was the first to describe it in 1974.
It is difficult to class the Makapansgat pebble as art if a rigorous definition of the term is used, as the object was found rather than made. Nevertheless that an Australopithecus recognized a face in it reveals that the early hominid had some sort of capacity for symbolic thinking, necessary for the development of art and language.
- Kleiner, Fred S. (2011). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History (Enhanced Thirteenth Edition ed.). Boston: Wadsworth. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-495-79986-3.
- Bednarik, Robert G. "Makapansgat cobble analysed". University of Melbourne. Archived from the original on 2003-03-30. Retrieved 2010-05-14. Archived by the Internet Archive, original URI was http://sunspot.sli.unimelb.edu.au/aura/MAKAPANSGAT.htm
- OriginsNet: Pebble of many faces
- R. Bednarik: Manuports and very early palaeoart – photograph and text explaining the cobble's significance
- photograph of the Makapansgat pebble