Category: gen-swart

Ancient Africans Were World’s First Pyrotechnic Experts

Archaeologists have discovered early hunters used pyrotechnology to make better arrowheads. An overview of the Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 (PP5-6) taken from the shoreline near Mossel Bay, South Africa. Excavations are located beneath the tarpaulin visible in the background. Photo by Simen Oestmo/South African Coast Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, Paleoanthropology Project (SACP4)Modern pyrotechnology has been traced to a cave in South Africa thanks to scientists barbecuing rocks in an experiment worthy of a CSI episode.

Archaeologists were puzzled by stone arrowheads found in a coastal cave near Mossel Bay. How did early hunter-gatherers make such fine hunting gear? History’s detectives tried to re-enact the scene and make blades and bifacial tools themselves, but it proved trickier than anticipated. Finally, they worked out that to fashion the tools early modern humans must have mastered pyrotechnology the controlled use of fire 45,000 years earlier than thought. And in Africa, rather than Europe.

It’s a groundbreaking find. Heat treatment and passing down the technique an act that would probably have required language shows these Middle Palaeolithic-epoch people were pretty clever chaps or, in scientific speak, capable of complex cognition processes.

The tools were uncovered in a cliffside cave at Pinnacle Point, near the seaside town of Mossel Bay in South Africa, by an international team including scientists from the universities ofCape Town,Arizona, Liverpool, New South Wales, Bordeaux and Wollongong.

They were masters of fire and heat and stone, a crucial advantage as these tropical people penetrated the cold lands of the Neanderthal. Professor Curtis Marean

Details of their discovery were published in a paper titled Fire As an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans in the August 14, 2009 issue of the journal Science. The papers lead author, archaeology doctorate student Kyle Brown, of the University of Cape Town, said: These early modern humans commanded fire in a nuanced and sophisticated manner. This is the beginnings of fire and engineering, the origins of pyrotechnology, and the bridge to more recent ceramic and metal technology.

Previously, pyrotechnology was thought to have first occurred in Europe about 25,000 years ago. Now this critical step for humankind is set in Africa, at least 72,000 but possibly up to 164,000 years ago, which is when scientists estimate early humans first moved into the Pinnacle Point cave.

Teams have been working at sites in the area since 1999 as part of the South African Coast Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, Paleoanthropology Project, known as SACP4. Its also been discovered that the prehistoric hunter-gatherers dined on shellfish and adorned themselves in ochre, both significant inthe evolution of human behaviour.

Too Cool for Tools

The site is where an international team of researchers discovered evidence that early modern humans employed pyrotechnology to increase the quality and efficiency of their stone tool manufacturing process. Photo by Simen Oestmo/South African Coast Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, Paleoanthropology Project (SACP4)When researchers tried to make stone tools themselves, they battled. Arrowheads uncovered at the site were made of silcrete, a mix of gravel and sand held together by silica. Scientists tried to find its source, assuming hunters had made the tools by flaking that is, hitting one rock against another until flakes fell off. Then they discovered a big piece of silcrete, about 10cm in diameter, stuck in ash at Pinnacle Point Site 5-6.This triggered the pyrotechnology brainwave, and scientists started playing with fire.

Eventually, barbecuing rocks paid off. The raw stone was buried under a layer of sand and a fire built on top a hot one, requiring up to 40kg of hardwood. The fire’s temperature was slowly increased then slowly cooled so as not to damage the stone. Afterwardsthe silcrete, previously a shoddy material for tools, was transformed its flaking qualities improved, it changed from a yellow to reddish colour and made top-notch bifacial tools and knives heat-treated products that were likely exchanged as items of value.

This explains why people would invest so much effort at wood collection and heat treatment for their production, said director of SACP4Professor Curtis Marean, of theUniversity of Arizona’sInstitute of Human Originsand a co-author on the paper, in a press release. He added the hearths used to test their theory were designed to mimic what people in the past may have done. So, not only did we heat silcrete, but we barbecued (a braai in South Africa) steaks and chops at the same time as measuring the temperature profiles with our thermocouple.

The Science paper concluded that the pyrotechnology scoop adds weight to the theory that modern humans genetic lineage can be traced to the southern tip of Africa.

Professor Mareansaid their mastery of fire was a reasonable explanation for the rapid spread of modern humans over glacial Eurasia: They were masters of fire and heat and stone, a crucial advantage as these tropical people penetrated the cold lands of the Neanderthal.

See the University of Cape Towns report here.

Pass me my hand axe: Great Stone Age discoveries in Botswana

Four giant stone hand axes were recovered from the the dry basin of Lake Makgadikgadi in the Kalahari Desert. Image Courtesy of The University of Oxford.Exciting times in Botswana. Giant hand axes are among a stash of Stone Age tools discovered there that could tell us more about how the ancestors of modern humans hunted, coped with climate change and migrated through Africa.

Oxford University researchers have uncovered an incredible collection of artefacts including four hand axes, thought to be the worlds largest stone tools in the dry basin of Lake Makgadikgadi in the Kalahari Desert. Their latest finds throw light on how early humans adapted to climate change during the Middle and Late Stone Age, that is, 150,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Researchers say their discoveries show the region has been both wetter, and drier and windier, than it is today. And they estimate the lake has been full several times over the past 250,000 years.

Botswana’s Stone Age stash includes four big axes each more than 30 centimetres long and believed to be the worlds largest stone tools plus thousands of smaller tools and flakes

Botswanas Lake Makgadikgadi spills over 66,000 square kilometres and when brimming with water would have been equal to todays Lake Victoria. So far the Stone Age stash found here includes the four big axes each more than 30 centimetres long plus thousands of smaller tools and flakes.

Significantly, many artefacts were found on the lake floor, not around its edge. This suggests ancient hunters might have been sharpening their tools in glee during a dry spell, when low water levels would have forced wild animals to gather at waterholes in the lake bed.

Its evidence of marked human adaptation, according to Professor David Thomas, head of the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford. Its likely that early human populations would have seen this area as a prolific hunting ground when food resources in the region were more concentrated than at times when the regional climate was wetter and food was more plentiful and the lake was full of water, Prof Thomas said.

He added this challenges the idea that humans were only attracted to big lakes when they were full of water.

Work at Lake Makgadikgadi has been quietly carried out since the early 1990s, when the first axes were found. It is only now the discoveries are being scientifically reported.

Whats also exciting is that Lake Makgadikgadi may have been an important stopover for the human race. Information gleaned at this site, linked with that from similar dry lakes in the Sahara, could enlarge on the Out of Africa theory of human expansion, as archaeologists guess hominids the ancestors of modern humans would have migrated along a wet route through Africa to Europe.

The desert hoard of artefacts has put Botswana previously best known for the Okavango Delta, San paintings and Alexander McCall Smiths fictional Ladies Detective Agency firmly on the archaeological map. According to Prof Thomas, The interior of southern Africa has usually been seen as being devoid of significant archaeology. That has all changed thanks to his teams work, which is part of an ongoing project delving into the history of climate change in Africa.

More research is planned.

Read the Oxford University news release here.

Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol – Circumpunct, Ra, or Circle With a Dot in the Middle?

The Egyptian sun god, here seen in the guise of Ra-Horus, is represented by an ancient symbol that Dan Brown has resurrected in his lastest thriller, The Lost Symbol. Image by Michael Reeve

As any true seeker of ancient wisdom knows, it ain’t found in a Dan Brown novel. This is despite the bold claim in the preface to his latest epic, The Lost Symbol:

“FACT: In 1991, a document was locked in the safe of the director of the CIA. The document is still there today. Its cryptic text includes references to an ancient portal and an unknown location underground. The document also contains the phrase ‘It’s buried out there somewhere.’

“All organizations in this novel exist, including the Freemasons, the Invisible College, the Office of Security, the SMSC, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

“All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.”

Brown was asking for it, wasn’t he? All over the world, people are now having a ball proving The Da Vinci Code author wrong again on numerous points, from his definition of ancient (200 years, duh!) to his grasp of Washington DC’s geography. The Freemasons have even set up a website to fight the lies, although they are more likely to find themselves inundated with applications for membership.

But despite Brown’s leaden, explanation-heavy denouement much confusion still surrounds the Lost Symbol itself.

Staggering through all 509 pages (spare yourself the misery, try instead the Guardian’s parody) reveals the tatttoed maniacal villain was not actually hunting for the lost symbol but the lost word and, for all good Christians, a simple capital W would have cleared the whole thing up from page 1. Besides, the Lost Symbol was never really lost. Its meaning may have been a little obscure but that’s because it has multiple interpretations. Clear as mud? Excellent. Let’s proceed.

The symbol in question is what Dan Brown calls a circumpunct. Interestingly, a Google search for the word “circumpunct” turns up only 1480 results (although that is increasing as Brown-noses unthinkingly adopt the word). It appears in no sensible dictionary, such as the OED, or even In fact, some of its few web pages feature a discussion in the Wikimedia Commons on circumpunct’s validity and origins in the ancient year of, er, 1992. The word, some argue, was first coined by the Brianists, followers of ‘Brian the Cyber Prophet’, a decidedly dodgy, short-lived religion of the 1990s that adopted the circumpunct as its symbol.

Brown has this to say in his novel: “In the idiom of symbology, there was onesymbol that reignedsupreme above all others. The oldest and most universal, this symbolfused all the ancient traditions in a single solitary image thatrepresented the illumination of the Egyptian sun god, the triumph of alchemical gold, the wisdom of the Philosopher’s Stone, the purity of the Rosicrucian Rose, the moment of Creation, the All, the dominance of the astrological sun, and even the ominscient all-seeing eye that hovered atop the unfinished pyramid. The circumpunct. The symbol of the Source. The origin of all things.”

The Lost Symbol’s cardboard cut-out hero Robert Langdon, a professor so wacky and adventurous he refuses to wear ties (look out, Indiana!) describes the circumpunct as one of the most widely used symbols in history. It has dozens of meanings; in ancient Egypt, he says, it was the symbol for the sun god Ra.

Can we Trust Brown on This?

There are already conspiracy theories surrounding his usage of the symbol (including one incoherently excited site that believes the Freemasons’ circumpunct celebrates the same star pictured in a 3500-year-old Egyptian tomb, an assertion that ends up being little more than an advertisement and request for cash).

It is true that the circumpunct symbol has been around for millennia, albeit more often known as “the circle with the dot in the middle”. It can symbolise everything from gold in alchemy to a European road sign for city centre. It is commonly used as a solar symbol and reputable sources date this to ancient Egypt, where the symbol has its origins in Ra (or Re), god of the midday sun. In fact, the circle with a midpoint, plus a vertical line is the hieroglyph meaning “sun”.

So how did an Egyptian symbol rise to shine again as a token of the ancient mysteries among 21st-century Freemasons in Brown’s novel? Langdon’s exposition is as follows: “The pyramid builders of Egypt are the forerunners of the modern stonemasons, and the pyramid, along with Egyptian themes, is very common in Masonic symbolism.” Very neat. Well done, Brown.

Later in the novel, after the circumpunct is discovered inside the stone box which housed the capstone for a mysterious Masonic pyramid, Langdon briefly mentions one of the most famous images supposedly deriving from the circumpunct the all-seeing eye over the Great Seal of a United States dollar bill. But mostly the circumpunct is represented in the book in its purest, original form.

This simple symbol has many meanings, often spiritual. The Stanford Solar Center says the circle with a point is the common astrological and now astronomical symbol for the Sun, as well as the ancient alchemical symbol for gold, the perfect metal. This is because the sphere is a perfect shape, representing wholeness, oneness, unity and spirituality.

In her bookLife Symbols as Related to Sex Symbolism, Elizabeth E. Goldsmith writes that the dot within the circle dates to ancient times and may have typified the seed within the egg. “This is the ‘Orphic egg’, a symbol of the universe whose yolk in the middle of a liquid surrounded an encompassing vault, represented the globe of the sun floating in ether and surrounded by the vault of heaven,” she writes. How apt then that Ra worshipped as the great father who created gods and men should be represented by this symbol.

In Hinduism the midpoint in the circle is called a “bindu” meaning point or dot and it’s said to signify the spark of male life, the point at which creation begins within the cosmic womb and one becomes many. According to the bookYantra: The Tantric Symbol Of Cosmic Unitythe bindu is the “the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state”.

It would be interesting to find out where this symbol appears all over the world. In Freemasons’ halls, we now know. In the writings of the ancient Egyptians. But where else?

Answers on an e-card, please.