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Biologist Discovers What May Be The Earliest Known Doodle

The Homo erectus, an early human ancestor, gets the credit.

Biologist Discovers What May Be The Earliest Known Doodle
[Photo: Flickr user jeffmason]

Your idea of an ancient doodle is likely a former classmate’s name scrawled across your 6th grade trapper keeper. But a truly ancient doodle — perhaps the first-ever artistic expression — has been found on a 500,000-year-old shell in Indonesia.

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It is believed that the etching was made by a Homo erectus, an early human ancestor. “This is a truly spectacular find and has the potential to overturn the way we look at early Homo,” says Nick Barton, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who was not involved in the discovery, told Nature.

Previously discovered etchings, found in South Africa, are believed to be approximately 100,000 years old, and researchers discovered earlier this year doodles supposedly made by the Neanderthals in a Gibraltar cave more than 39,000 years ago. (People commented that the etching looked like a hashtag.)

This shell, which held embedded grains of sand that scientists dated to around 500,000 years ago, was found in the 1890’s by Dutch paleontologist Eugène Dubois at a site in eastern Java called Trinil. When Josephine Joordens, a biologist at Leiden University, was recently looking back at Dubois’ findings, she and another colleague noticed etchings on the shell in a deliberate, zigzag pattern.

“If you don’t know the intention of the person who made it, it’s impossible to call it art,” Joordens told Nature. “But on the other hand, it is an ancient drawing. It is a way of expressing yourself. What was meant by the person who did this, we simply don’t know, ” she adds. “It could have been to impress his girlfriend, or to doodle a bit, or to mark the shell as his own property.”

Perhaps, or maybe the ancient doodler was just trying to spark some creativity.