Move over, Indiana Jones — the true Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has been revealed! Archaeologists are abuzz with news of the discovery of ancient stone-age tools and crystals at a rock shelter in the southern Kalahari Desert, which may alter our conception of early human culture in Africa. Researchers excavated 22 white calcite crystals and fragments of ostrich eggshell, thought to have been used as water containers, from deposits dated to 105,000 years ago at Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter.
The dig was led by paleoarchaeologist Jayne Wilkins, an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University. Wilkins is a lithic analyst, unearthing and investigating stone tool assemblage variability across South Africa through time. Over the last 10 years, Wilkins has been building “a robust database of Stone Age assemblage characteristics from multiple sites including Pinnacle Point, Vleesbaai, Grassridge, Knysna, and Kathu Pan,” according to her website.
“Our findings from this rockshelter show that overly simplified models for the origins of our species are no longer acceptable,” Wilkins said in a statement released by Griffith University. While archaeological evidence for early Homo sapiens has largely turned up in coastal sites in South Africa, this evidence indicates that regions across the African continent were involved (the Kalahari being just one). This disrupts the prevailing notion that human origins were linked to coastal environments.
“There have been very few well-preserved, datable archaeological sites in the interior of southern Africa that can tell us about Homo sapiens’ origins away from the coast,” said Wilkins.
The rockshelter on Ga-Mohana Hil, which stands at the southernmost edge of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, stands above an expansive savannah in the Kalahari is still used by members of the local community for prayer and ritual. “Recognizing and respecting that, our project has been adjusting our methods to make sure that we’re not undermining those practices,” said Wilkins in a video about the project. These efforts include extremely targeted extraction of artifacts and infill of the digs during times of worship and sojourns from the research site, which allows rituals and prayer practice to continue in the space as though nothing has changed.
The presence of the crystals and the eggshell demonstrate an intentionality to human interaction with the site, and lends breadth to notions of cultural development in areas of Africa.