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16 August 2012
Modern culture emerged in Africa 40,000 years ago

The emergence of clearly recognisable modern culture in our prehistoric past, as reflected by the observable cultural characteristics of modern hunter-gatherer groups, has long eluded scientists and been a subject of debate. But now, researchers have material evidence that a culture much like that of the modern hunter-gatherer San people of Africa, existed as long as 44,000 years ago.
     Until now, most archaeologists thought that the earliest evidence of San hunter-gatherer culture in southern Africa dates back at most 20,000 years.
     The team dated and analysed objects recovered from Border Cave, in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The site has yielded exceptionally well-preserved organic material, making it well-situated for the application of a variety of dating techniques.
     The artefacts include digging sticks weighted with perforated stones, a wooden stick decorated with incisionsĀ used to hold and carry a poison, a lump of beeswax mixed with toxic resin (likely usedĀ for hafting arrowheads or tools), Warthog tusks shaped into awls and possibly spear heads, and small pieces of stone for hunting weapons.
     Lucinda Backwell, of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg: "They adorned themselves with ostrich egg and marine shell beads, and notched bones for notational purposes. They fashioned fine bone points for use as awls and poisoned arrowheads. One point is decorated with a spiral groove filled with red ochre, which closely parallels similar marks that San make to identify their arrowheads when hunting."
     Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (USA), another key research team leader, and lead study author of another report based on the same research: "Our research proves that the Later Stone Age emerged in South Africa far earlier than has been believed and occurred at about the same time as the arrival of modern humans in Europe. But differences in technology and culture between the two areas are very strong, showing the people of the two regions chose very different paths to the evolution of technology and society."

Edited from Los Angeles Times, Popular Archaeology (30 July 2012)

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