Putting a stamp on creativity

  • Posted: Apr 17, 2014

Capetonians are creative – it’s a fact! The first evidence of human creativity was uncovered at Blombos Cave in the southern Cape,and form part of our Natural History collection. Discovered by Chris Henshilwood, the Blombos ochreis the earliest symbolic design, and the Blombos Nassarius kraussianus shell beads are the oldest symbolic ornaments in South Africa. In honour of  these, the South African Post Office has launched a new stamp collection, photographed by Hein Botha,under the theme: “Symbols of South African Cultures”.

According to the South African Post Office’s Louise van Niekerk, “South Africa has a rich and diverse cultural history that goes back thousands of years. Throughout the years, the different cultural groups have communicated their traditions, beliefs and social customs in a variety of forms such as religious objects, utensils, artefacts, clothing and accessories. Many of these have remained intact to tell their stories to this day.” She continues, “Every object created by one of South Africa’s cultural groups conveys a message that tells us something about the culture they represent. All of these objects are decorated with certain patterns and colours, which have a specific meaning and are unique to South Africa.”

The Blombos Cave, near Still Bay in the Western Cape, was discovered in 1991 by Christopher Henshilwood, Professor in African Prehistory at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University and the AHKR Institute at the University of Bergen, Norway. It is an archaeological site made famous by the discovery there of two pieces of ochre engraved with abstract designs, 75,000-year-old beads made from Nassarius shells, and 80,000-year-old bone tools. The engraved pieces of ochre are regarded as the oldest known artwork.

The Blombos ochreUnearthed by Henshilwood in 2000, this cross-hatched engraving represents evidence of the earliest symbolic behaviour of human beings.TheBlombos ochrecan be viewed right here in the /Qe Power of Rock Art exhibition at the Iziko South African Museum.

Blombos Nassarius kraussianus shell beadsThese intentionally bored estuarine shell beads are 75,000 years old and represent the earliest and oldest evidence yet to be found for ornamentation in southern Africa. Worn around the human body, they communicated a message about the wearer to viewers – perhaps about age or status.

According to Dr Johnny van Schalkwyk, anthropologist at Ditsong: National Museum of Cultural History in Pretoria, those symbols or patterns work together with the object to tell their own story. “If you should take those away from the object, it will not have the same meaning,” says Dr Van Schalkwyk, who assisted in choosing the objects depicted on the stamps and provided information about them.

“I am delighted that they think that the Blombos artefacts are important enough to rank among the culture symbols of South Africa and that the Post Office made two special stamps that feature these artefacts. It is a great honour for our research team and for Wits and Bergen,” says Henshilwood.

Read more about the Blombos artefacts at: http://www.wits.ac.za/newsroom/newsitems/201402/22849/news_item_22849.html
and about the stamp collection at: http://www.postoffice.co.za/group/philately/2013/culturesymbols.html

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