Did ‘Java Man’ Draw or Paint?

The Distributed Proofreaders Canada eBook of Meet Your Ancestors: A  Biography of Primitive Man, by Roy Chapman Andrews.

When I was a boy, Homo erectus was called Pithecanthropus (“Ape Man”) or “Java Man”–this head-to-toe furry guy with a brain about the size of a golf ball. The illustration above is about the most kind treatment he ever got.

Now we know he made stone tools, walked fully erect, and had a brain capacity which, at least in some examples, equaled ours. Not that that seems particularly hard to do, these days.

Ah! But was he fully human? Well, how can he be, if he can’t produce some kind of art?

But evidence is seeping in that he could and he did.

No, we haven’t found the first Mona Lisa. It’s just some clam shells with lines scratched into them, found in Java. When they were new, the shells would’ve been dark brown and the scratches vividly white. The shells have turned white with great age, but you can still see the scratchings–including what looks like a capital M.

Homo erectus shell carving photo

Now don’t get into an uproar over the dates cited by scientists who are studying this. Whatever dates you assign to them, a) the shells are very old, b) they have clearly been engraved, and c) they’ve been found where traces of Homo erectus have been found.

Could it be that H. erectus was… us? Just people? with some superficial differences that set them apart from people today.

Sheesh. What if they liked to draw and paint on sheets of bark, or animal skins, or some other perishable material? We’d never know. It wouldn’t be Arnolfini’s Wedding, but it might be more impressive than doodlings on a clam shell. Navaho sand paintings are exquisite works of art requiring great skill; but they’d never show up in the archaeological record.

What if it really was a letter M?


One comment on “Did ‘Java Man’ Draw or Paint?”

  1. Life had to have been hard, but even way back in time, people obviously still found time to express themselves with art. Dr Nathaniel Jeanson, who works for Ansers in Genesis, has written a book about the DNA evidence of human history, as it appears when calibrated to a biblical timescale, going back roughly 4,500 years, to the sons of Noah. It’s a pretty interesting project. The upshot of the whole thing is that mankind has been pretty much the same throughout history, and that the distinctions we see in various people groups are ephemeral.

    Basically, go back a few thousand years and my ancestors would be the same as the ancestors of pretty much everyone else on earth, because all peoples emerged from the same stock, and traits form rapidly. One branch of my family has been traced back over 1,000 years and this Northern European branch, with the family name Johnson, came from Italy. I suspect that many, many people ultimately can be traced to the Mediterranean Basin or the Mideast. The word “Sino”, as relates to China, is said to come from the Greek word Sinai, so it’s quite possible that even people in the Far East had Middle Eastern roots.

    Mainstream science seems to want to separate people into distinct groups, but there is plenty of evidence that all of mankind is fairly closely related.

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