Zambia and its Colorful Contribution to the World

Twin Rivers, Zambia

Have you ever heard of Twin Rivers in Zambia? Do you know that humanity came in contact with pigments, color, 300,000 years ago in the area of Twin Rivers? In this area of Zambia, located southwest of the capital Lusaka, is where the most extensive prehistoric mineral pigment collection in the world is found.

Language is not the only way of communicating, color is also part of it. Humanity communicated using pigments and color hundreds of thousands of years ago. Africa has some of the earliest evidence of the use of earth pigments. Evidence includes engraved ochre nodules and ochre processing areas and tools at sites such as the Blombos Cave in South Africa or Porc Epic in Ethiopia; the extensive processing of ochre at sites such as Sibudu in South Africa or Twin Rivers in Zambia, and the extensive mining of shiny bright red ochre in Eswatini (subject for another day). In 2006, in Twin Rivers, Zambia, archaeologists found that early humans used paint for aesthetic purposes much earlier than previously thought. The team found pigments dated between 350,000 and 400,000 years back. As a comparison, the oldest pigments previously found were 120,000 years old (still in Africa) and the oldest known painting is about 35,000 years old.  Huge quantities, about 70 kg or more, were found in a cave, thus implying a systematic use of pigments indicating a purposeful and repeated activity, perhaps linked to a material expression of self-awareness, displayed in the form of body paint/body decoration. Throughout the years, different rocks were excavated, ranging from limonite, hematite, specularite, and different kinds of pigments. The work done by Pr. Barham and his team, shows that even though a variety of colors of ochre were used at Twin Rivers (such as yellow, brown, red, a dark sparkly purple shade of red (specularite), pink, and blue-black) the most predominant color at the site is red.

Enjoy the article below from Colorful beginning for humanity on the BBC, Newsbriefs Archaeology, and check out the extensive work of the Liverpool team.

Blombos Cave and the GPS?

Oldest Drawing by Homo Sapiens, dated to be 73,000 years old, found in the Blombos Cave (Wikipedia)

As we said earlier, a lot of new discoveries were made at the Blombos cave [Blombos Cave: Earliest Known Drawing by a Human found in Africa old of 73,000 years] in South Africa. In 2002, Henshilwood and his team had found 2 ocre rocks as old as 100 000 to 80 000 years, which had particularly special graphic inscriptions. On some of these rocks, there are very clear graphic designs in shapes of triangles, revealing a triangulation system similar to that of the modern-day GPS. Is it possible that our ancestors, 80 000 years ago already had already imagined a triangulation system?

There are three major tiling systems: the square (which is simplistic as a reflection), the hexagonal (used by bees) and the triangle (non-existent in nature). But out of these three, only the triangle does not occur naturally in nature. Interesting that out of those three, our ancestors chose the triangle, the most complex. Not only that, but imagine the mathematics required to make that happen, very advanced, almost 100,000 years ago. This pattern on the piece of red ochre displays the hexagon of  Sacred Geometry. The triangles, diamonds, or the red ochre of this object were not randomly chosen. The triangle refers to the principle of divine creation (Trinity). It is possible that the geometric patterns found in Blombos were used to define the ideal model for the triangulation of surfaces, and thus laid the fundamentals for today’s triangulation found in the GPS. So, next time you use the GPS on your phone, remember the Blombos cave and your African ancestors!

Findings from Blombos Cave, South Africa

Blombos Cave: Earliest Known Drawing by a Human found in Africa old of 73,000 years

Rock Art from Blombos Cave (Source: C. Henshilwood, Wikipedia)

We take drawing for granted, and we know that our ancestors, ancient humans thought of drawings as a very good communication tool, as depicted in petroglyphs found in a thousand places on the African continent, in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

This may be old news to some, but the earliest evidence of a drawing made by humans has been found in the Blombos Cave in the southern Cape province of South Africa. Blombos Cave contains material dating from 100,000—70,000 years ago.

The drawing, which consists of three red lines cross-hatched with six separate lines, was intentionally drawn on a smooth silcrete flake about 73,000 years ago. This predates previous drawing from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Oldest Drawing by Homo Sapiens, dated to be 73,000 years old, found in the Blombos Cave (Source: Wikipedia)

Excavations at the world-famous archeological Blombos Cave site, have yielded many important riches. These include delicately crafted stones and bone implements preceding comparable European artifacts by more than 80,000 years, and at least 8,000 pieces of ochre, used as colour pigment by early humans. This indicates that our ancestors already had an acute sense of colors, and the different properties of these oxidizing colors (ferrous oxide), suggesting a strong understanding of the chemistry behind the colors’ composition.

… the drawings were made with an ochre crayon, with a tip of between 1 and 3 millimetres thick. Further, the abrupt termination of the lines at the edge of the flake also suggested that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface, and may have been more complex in its entirety.

Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a long time been convinced that unambiguous symbols first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40,000 years ago, and later replaced local Neanderthals,” says Pr. Christopher Henshilwood from the University of Witswatersrand. “Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, Europe and Asia, in which members of our team have often participated, support a much earlier emergence for the production and use of symbols.”

The archaeological layer in which the Blombos drawing was found also yielded other indicators of symbolic thinking, such as shell beads covered with ochre, and, more importantly, pieces of ochres engraved with abstract patterns. Some of these engravings closely resemble the one drawn on the silcrete flake.

Bifacial silcrete point from M1 phase (71,000 BCE) layer of Blombos Cave, South Africa (Source: Wikipedia)

This demonstrates that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape used different techniques to produce similar signs on different media,” says Henshilwood. “This observation supports the hypothesis that these signs were symbolic in nature and represented an inherent aspect of the behaviorally modern world of these African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us today.

To find out more, please read this article written by Christopher Henshilwood and his team in Nature, as well as this article in the National Geographic.