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Humans Returned To A Mysterious Cave Continuously For 4,500 Years Over 45,000 Years Ago, Here’s Why

First Posted: May 29, 2017 04:30 AM EDT

Forty-five thousand years ago, Middle Stone Age humans found a cave at a limestone cliff’s base in what is now part of Ethiopia. They made the roomy cave, known in modern times as Porc-Epic, into a special type of workshop where they created the world’s first paint. Interestingly, people went on returning to the cave that served as an artist's workshop for 4,500 years, in the course of which they covered its walls in symbols and perhaps also inked their clothes and bodies.

Now, a new study published in PLOS One indicates that Porc-Epic has provided researchers with a new way to know more about the “cultural continuity in the Middle Stone Age.” The research team of paleo scientists sorted more than 4,000 pieces of ochre found in the cave. From the finding, the team has suggested that Porc-Epic is a “rare continuous record of how humans pass on rituals and knowledge across dozens of generations."

According to Ars Technica, the scientists noted that the techniques used to powder the rocks were best suited for art and decoration. Moreover, in the course of 4,500 years, there were changes in the processes used to make the rock powder as well in color choices.

Around 43,000 to 42,000 years ago, during the midpoint of the cave’s use, there was a marked uptick in the ochre amount processed. One of Porc-Epic's great mysteries for scientists is what happened during that peak period when a large number of different shades of ochre was produced, which also indicated that more people were working in the cave. Researchers believe that a change in the environment that made the area hospitable for larger populations or an increased demand in ochre could have contributed to this.

However, what makes the study most incredulous for the researchers is the lack of change, where humans used the cave to create the same type of reddish rocks over four millennia. The team wonders if this is because those Middle Stone Age people perceived colors differently than the modern man.

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