2.5 million year old Australopithecus manuport shows symbolic thought

The Makapansgat cobble


Found in a cave in Limpopo, South Africa. The Makapansgat cobble is a naturally occurring peice of reddish jasperite, found in cave breccia at the Makapansgat quarry, along  with Australopithecus bones. It’s dated to have been left in the cave 2.5 to 3 million years old. Technically it’s called a manuport, a naturally occurring object that’s been deliberately moved for some reason to a new location. It was found four kilometres from the nearest possible site, so it wasn’t carried back as an act of absent mindedness. Carrying an object over 4km has a reason. Presumably it was picked up by a hominid and carried back to the cave as a curiosity, because of it’s resemblance to a face and unusual colour. It seems that it was recognised it as a ‘face’, and taken it home; an indication of symbolic thought. Although, it may have been a ‘toy’ rather than ‘art’, as modern primates show a fondness for toys, and the colour red in particular.

Isotope analysis of the bones from this site suggest that the Australopithecus in residence were eating meat as well as fruits and vegetables, and that they were exploiting open grassland for food. Absent from this stage are stone tool and fire use. It would seem that Australopithecus was clever enough to recognize and value a face, but not to create tools or use fire. An ape right on the verge of the Homo genus.


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