Two papers published on July 30, 2012, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences present substantial evidence from the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the border of South Africa and Swaziland that modern human culture began at least 20,000 years earlier than previously thought.
An international group of paleontologists from the United States, Africa, and Europe examined artifacts from the Border Cave and concluded that while modern men were first venturing into Europe modern culture with all the trappings of religion, community, and technological development had already developed in Africa.
The evidence is extensive and was substantiated by radio carbon dating.
Artifacts include a huge selection of ostrich bone beads, a variety of digging implements, and the oldest beeswax ever found in a human habitation. The beeswax was wrapped in the remains of a plant leaf presumed to be the plant bow strings were made from. This indicates a purposeful application of beeswax at least 44,000 years ago. The authors propose the beeswax was used as a fixative for sealing plant fiber strings to spear heads and possibly in bow strings.
Evidence of a progressive refinement in the techniques used to make spear heads and arrow heads by the San people at the Border Cave are the earliest known evidence of modern technological progression.
A sophisticated knowledge of the deadly effects of castor oil resins is evinced by the residue of castor oil found on pointed weapons that were of themselves insufficient to kill a large animal. The castor oil poison had sufficient killing power to bring down large game. This discovery evinces a sophisticated knowledge of plant characteristics and an adaptation of a natural product to a technological need.
This behavior is in essence the origin of scientific development 44,000 years ago.
The research was reviewed at the Eureka Alert web site here and here on July 30, 2012.