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South African Cave Slowly Shares Secrets of Human Culture

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Science  10 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6035, pp. 1260-1261
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6035.1260

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At Sibudu Cave in South Africa lies a record of prehistoric human occupation that extends back at least 77,000 years and probably much longer. These multilayered, humanmade sediments are crammed with thousands of artifacts left behind by Homo sapiens during our species' formative years, culturally speaking. There are sophisticated stone tools, skillfully made bone implements, deep hearths, and the charred bones of large and small mammals; there are swatches of bedding made of sedges and grass, chunks of red ochre, and sparkling ornamental beads made from the shells of sea snails. This site has become a powerful tool for testing hypotheses about the cognitive prowess of early modern humans. The excavations have pushed back the first signposts for complex cognition, producing evidence for the earliest known bows and arrows as well as the precocious use of snares and traps to catch small animals, both of which require the ability to plan ahead.