SA peb­ble part of UK ex­hi­bi­tion

CityPress - - News -

A lit­tle South African stone, said to rep­re­sent the ear­li­est ap­pre­ci­a­tion of art, is on dis­play at the Bri­tish Mu­seum in Lon­don.

The peb­ble, ar­guably the old­est arte­fact on dis­play, forms part of an ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled South Africa: The art of a na­tion, which charts 100 000 years of the coun­try’s art.

The peb­ble has not been ex­hib­ited be­fore. It is reg­is­tered as a pre­cious South African her­itage item and re­quired a tem­po­rary ex­port per­mit to travel to Lon­don in a spe­cially de­signed, se­cure wooden crate.

The peb­ble is nat­u­rally wa­ter-worn and bears in­den­ta­tions on both sides that look like a hu­man face. How­ever, it was found 30km from its wa­tery ori­gins and in the vicin­ity of our early an­ces­tors. The peb­ble’s aes­thetic lies in the the­ory that these ho­minins recog­nised them­selves in the “face” on the peb­ble and, in de­light, car­ried the arte­fact to their cave, north of Pre­to­ria.

It was dis­cov­ered 2 mil­lion years later, in 1925. Fifty years af­ter that, Pro­fes­sor Ray­mond Dart, a pa­le­oan­thro­pol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, pub­lished a sci­en­tific pa­per on “the Maka­pans­gat peb­ble of many faces”.

Dr Bern­hard Zipfel, univer­sity cu­ra­tor of col­lec­tions in the Evo­lu­tion­ary Stud­ies In­sti­tute at Wits Univer­sity, says: “This stone was found in the pres­ence of

an ex­tinct ho­minin that lived more than 2 mil­lion years ago. But this par­tic­u­lar peb­ble, which is wa­ter-worn, is not [usu­ally] found in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of these ho­minins.

“Dart felt that these aus­tralo­p­iths had picked it up and car­ried it back to Maka­pans­gat and there, per­haps, were look­ing at it, saw a like­ness and had some form of aes­thetic ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the peb­ble. There is no way of prov­ing or dis­prov­ing it, so it re­mains spec­u­la­tive.”

South Africa: The art of a na­tion is on un­til Fe­bru­ary 26.

– Staff re­porter

PHOTO: WITS UNIVER­SITY

The Maka­pans­gat peb­ble of many faces

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