Arts 2014, 3(1), 135-155; doi:10.3390/arts3010135

Palaeoart at Two Million Years Ago? A Review of the Evidence

Received: 29 September 2013; in revised form: 22 November 2013 / Accepted: 26 November 2013 / Published: 28 February 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue World Rock Art)
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Abstract: Current archaeological evidence supports the claim that symbolic behavior, including palaeoart, first emerged in human evolution around 1 million years ago. The purpose of this article is to review archaeological studies that might support the hypothesis that the earliest palaeoart actually is evident around 2 million years ago. This review identifies nine Oldowan artifacts that have been proposed as possible non-utilitarian and possibly symbolic behavior. Among seven stone tools, the three strongest candidates are the Olduvai Gorge, the FLK North grooved and pecked cobble, ~1.80 million years ago, and MNK Main subspheroid with hexagon shape framing an apparent natural dot-and-undulating-line motif, ~1.5–1.6 million years ago, both initially reported and described by Mary Leakey; and the curated Koobi Fora FxJj1 “broken core” with inner rhomboid shape, ~1.87 million years ago. All six stone tools from Olduvai Gorge need scientific re-examination to determine their chaîne opératoire and assess non-utilitarian features. If even one of the Olduvai Gorge artifacts were validated as symbolic behavior this would indicate the emergence of palaeoart one million years earlier than current proposals. It would also suggest that Homo habilis/rudolfensis or a very early Homo erectus had substantially more advanced cognitive, design and symbolic competencies than inferred in current theories. It would constitute a challenge to develop more advanced cognitive semiotic and art-theoretic analytical tools for illuminating the role of such palaeoart in hominin cultural evolution.
Keywords: origin of art; rock art; palaeoart; symbolic behavior; Oldowan; Lower Palaeolithic; Africa; prehistory of art; art history; cultural evolution
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MDPI and ACS Style

Harrod, J.B. Palaeoart at Two Million Years Ago? A Review of the Evidence. Arts 2014, 3, 135-155.

AMA Style

Harrod JB. Palaeoart at Two Million Years Ago? A Review of the Evidence. Arts. 2014; 3(1):135-155.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Harrod, James B. 2014. "Palaeoart at Two Million Years Ago? A Review of the Evidence." Arts 3, no. 1: 135-155.

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