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Hall of Human Origins

March 17, 2010
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Archaic arts

Prehistoric symbolic objects

Early Homo sapiens created these symbolic objects between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago. Using natural materials and creativity, they combined animal and human features into fantastical creatures and fashioned instruments for making music.

Photo Credit: Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

CroMagnon beads

Shell beads

Chip Clark / Smithsonian Institution

Part of an ancient necklace, these 30,000-year-old shells from Cro-Magnon, France  represent some of the earliest evidence of humans wearing jewelry. Some shells have traces of ocher, a clue they were colored with pigment.

Handaxes set

Stone handaxes

Chip Clark / Smithsonian Institution

Handaxes -- multipurpose  tools used to chop wood, butcher animals, and make other tools -- dominated early human technology for more than a million years. Left to right: Africa (1.6 million years old), Asia (1.1 million years old), and Europe (250,000 years old).

Homo erectus

Sculpture: ©2010, John Gurche | Photo: Chip Clark, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

The antelope will provide nutritious meat and marrow for this early human female and her social group. Homo erectus butchered animals using simple stone tools like the handaxe here. The ability to scavenge and hunt large animals helped this species survive as it spread to new environments.