Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Homo erectus were not so dum after all!

A paper published in Nature [1] reported : "The manufacture of geometric engravings is generally interpreted as indicative of modern cognition and behaviour. Key questions in the debate on the origin of such behaviour are whether this innovation is restricted to Homo sapiens, and whether it has a uniquely African origin1. Here we report on a fossil freshwater shell assemblage from the Hauptknochenschicht (‘main bone layer’) of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the type locality of Homo erectus discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891 (refs 2 and 3). In the Dubois collection (in the Naturalis museum, Leiden, The Netherlands) we found evidence for freshwater shellfish consumption by hominins, one unambiguous shell tool, and a shell with a geometric engraving. We dated sediment contained in the shells with 40Ar/39Ar and luminescence dating methods, obtaining a maximum age of 0.54 ± 0.10 million years and a minimum age of 0.43 ± 0.05 million years. This implies that the Trinil Hauptknochenschicht is younger than previously estimated. Together, our data indicate that the engraving was made by Homo erectus, and that it is considerably older than the oldest geometric engravings described so far. Although it is at present not possible to assess the function or meaning of the engraved shell, this discovery suggests that engraving abstract patterns was in the realm of Asian Homo erectus cognition and neuromotor control"

Our distant ancestors were much smarter than believed until now. Symbolic representations have been believed to be a more recent acquisition (H. sapiens and, more reluctantly, Neanderthals).

A smarter H. erectus is interesting, it means that 500 kya they could have not only engraved mussel shells but also, dealt with the cold Arctic climate and walked across Beringia into the Americas.

430 - 540 ky old shell with human markings. From [1]


[1] Joordens, J. C. A. et al. Nature (2014). link

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 


  1. I enjoy your blog and have been reading the back postings. I agree with your thesis about modern man's origins, that erectus made it here long ago, by sea, working along the coast as a mariner. I have even written a novel based on this idea. Keep up the good work.

  2. Charlie, thanks for your comment!


  3. .Austin,
    Homo Erectus, like Neanderthal gets a bum rap on intelligence.
    It seems that the most important aspect of this article, in IMO, the drilling of the shells to open them, has been bypassed, this shows an understanding of cause and effect. Having grown up claming for the legendary Pismo clams, and partaking of them "fillipino style " , that is to say, when you got a smallish one , you pryed it open and ate it in the surf. Without a steel knife this would be nearly impossible.
    So , the fact that HE figured out that if you drill a hole in the right place to open a shell , shows not only a high degree of awarness as to cause and effect, but also a high degree of patience. Imagine how long it would take to drill a hole in a shell with a sharks tooth.
    I would hazard a guess that stone was used , we just haven't identified the tool yet.
    What does intrigue me is the apparent lack of knowledge of cooking shellfish, which would open them. Was it too wet for fire in the environment? , or did they not know how to create fire?


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