For 4,500 years, ancient humans kept on coming back to one cave in Ethiopia. It’s a roomy enclosure at the base of a limestone cliff, but its natural qualities were only one part of the story. People used the cave to store reddish stones rich in iron oxide, and then they turned those stones into different colors. A new study suggests that the cave, called Porc-Epic, was the world’s first art studio.
“The Porc-Epic cave was discovered by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Henry de Monfreid in 1929 and thought to date to about 43,000 to 42,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age,”. There, archaeologists have found “a stash of 4213 pieces, or nearly 90 pounds, of ochre, the largest such collection ever discovered at a prehistoric site in East Africa.”
The more evidence sites like the Porc-Epic cave provide, the greater the level of detail in which we’ll be able to piece together the story of not just art, but culture itself. Culture, as Brian Eno so neatly defined it, is everything you don’t have to do, and though drawing in ochre might well have proven useful for the prehistoric inhabitants of modern-day Ethiopia, one of them had to give it a try before it had any acknowledged purpose. Little could they have imagined what that action would lead to over the next few tens of thousands of years.
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