Oldowan - a) "Pebble of many faces," manuport, Makapansgat, South Africa, Australopithecine cave site, c. 2.5-3.0 MYA.
Comment: Object first reported by Raymond Dart (see citation below), and recently microscopically examined by Robert Bednarik (see citation below). Reddish-brown jasperite, with quartz veins, the weathering of which contributed to the stone's features. All features natural. Geologic history indicates it was probably picked out of a slow-flowing stream or flood channel and carried for a considerable distance into the cave, which has Australopithecus africanus and other remains. Its initial provenance cannot be securely determined. Dart suggests it is from a source 32 km away; others suggest somewhat closer sources. With its red color, which would have been highly distinctive in its geologic setting, quartz inclusions and anthropomorphic features, Bednarik observes, "I have never seen a natural stone object with such remarkable visual properties."
Dart and others have noted that the piece has three faces depending upon orientation. Face 1 shown; for Face 2 turn upside-down; obverse has Face 3. Dart interprets Face 2 as Australopithecine -like; Face 3 as possibly a toothless oldster. Bednarik suggest that Face 3 "presents a face resembling the reconstruction of an australopithecine face, wearing a friendly if somewhat mischievous grin". Face 1 would be too much like a current sapiens sapiens face. In either case, all agree that the individual who carried to the site had an 'iconographic' sense. This is the earliest evidence for aesthetic sense in the hominid line. Bednarik concludes based on this object that "it is, in my view, essential to expect australopithecine behavior to be significantly more complex, in a cultural and cognitive sense, than that of any extant non-human primate."
a) photo Patrick Nagel. Dart, R. (1974) . The waterworn Australopithecine pebble of many faces from Makapansgat. South African Journal of Science 70 (June):167-169, fig. 1. For a color photo see Bahn, P. and Vertut, J. (1997). Journey through the Ice Age. Berkeley: University of California Press. Figure 2.1. For a thorough microscopic and geological analysis see Bednarik, R. G. (1998). The 'Australopithecine' cobble from Makapansgat, South Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin 53:4-8.