“In a tiny South African cave,” writes Amina Khan in the Los Angeles Times, “archaeologists have unearthed a 100,000-year-old art studio that contains tools for mixing powder from red and yellow rocks with animal fat and marrow to make vibrant paints as well as abalone shells full of dried-out red pigment, the oldest paint containers ever found. (Photo by Magnus Haaland / October 5, 2011)
“The discovery, described in [the 10/14/11] edition of the journal Science, suggests that humans may have been thinking symbolically — more like modern-day humans think — much earlier than previously recognized, experts said. Symbolic thinking could have been a key evolutionary step in the development of other quintessentially human abilities, such as language, art and complex ritual.
“The artifacts were uncovered at a well-studied site called the Blombos Cave, which sits by the edge of the Indian Ocean about 180 miles east of Cape Town. The two shells, lying about 6 inches from each other, had a red residue from a soft, grindable stone known as ochre. Ochre is rich in iron compounds that usually give it red or yellow hues, and it is known to have been used in ancient paints.”
It is lovely to think that the longing to be creative is something innate. Now we know that at least 100,000 years ago, people were experiencing that urge and acting on it.