540,000-Year-Old Artwork Discovered on Shell (Video)

December 5, 2014 Updated: December 5, 2014

Humans’ early ancestor, Homo erectus, is generally thought to have been lacking in cognitive abilities.

A recent study of mussel shells collected in the late 1800’s shows that the prehistoric upright walkers may have had quite a bit more going on upstairs than people give them credit for.

In analyzing several shells stored in a Dutch museum, researchers determined their age to be around 540 thousand years old.

One shell in particular has a very purposeful design carved into it, most likely with a tooth from an ancient species of shark. Essential in the creation of such an art object is an advanced level of cognition not typically associated with earlier species.

Executing the design also would have required a great deal of strength and precision.

Said one of the researchers, “The maker certainly must have put a lot of effort in it. Also, it is important to appreciate that originally the lines must have been white on a black-brown background: visually very striking.”

Believed to be the oldest know example of artwork, it was found among several artifacts that were collected by a Dutch doctor in the 1890’s in modern day Indonesia. Discovered with it was another shell fashioned in a way that makes it appear to be a tool.

Prior to this discovery, it was believed that Homo erectus exclusively used implements made of stone.