Ancient seashell sheds light on 18000 years old civilization

Inventions 06 Mar 2021 Contributor
ancient seashell

Modern people have always tried to find their ancestors and to track the evolution of Homo Sapiens from olden times. In this quest, human has unearthed the remains of the Indus civilization, Mesopotamian civilization and even of the Inca civilization. Sometimes it is the caves with wall painting, sometimes it is the unearthed remains. Sometimes the monuments or structures serve as the probes for the civilization they endure.

In 1897, the ornate Marsoulas Cave in the Pyrenees, Europe was discovered. This cave bears the proof of the beginning of the Magdalenian culture at the end of the Last Glacial Maxium in that part of Europe. A team of researchers from CNRS, Muséum de Toulouse, Université Toulouse — Jean Jaurès and Musée du quai Branly — Jacques-Chirac found a conch (a large ancient seashell) from that cave. And recently they were able to produce sound from it. This study was published in last month’s issue of Science Advances journal.

How did they find the oldest seashell?

The Marsoulas cave is contemporary to the other two famous caves of the Magdalenian culture. The Altamira and Lascaux cave. The Magdalenian culture is characterized by the worked animal bones and cave wall paintings. Though the cave was found in 1894 originally, research works on that started in 1930. The findings from that cave were mostly kept at the Muséum de Toulouse. During an inventory, a large Charonia lampas (sea snell) shell was found by the multidisciplinary team of experts which was not examined till then. They conducted a study on it and hired a professional horn player who was able to produce sound from it.

What did we learn from that ancient seashell?

A hole of 3.5 cm diameter was found on its hard tip. And to the opposite end of that, clear traces of man-made cut was observed. A tomographic scan revealed the perforated nature of one of its first coils. From the traces of red pigment on its back, scientists assume it to be a religious object of that time.

The horn player was able to produce sounds of note C, C#, and D and with 3D scans, efforts are there to reveal how many notes can be produced from it.

Through carbon dating, it was found that the shell along with other objects found in the cave was at least 18000 years old! The team put a note which states that it might be the oldest air-blown music instrument ever found. As this type of conch or seashell is supposed to be found on the beach, this discovery connects the people of Magdalenian culture at the Pyrenees with the nearest Pacific seashore which was at least 200 km apart.