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To the untrained eye, this tiny piece of volcanic rock vaguely resembling a female figurine looks natural, but under the microscope, the grooves around the neck and on the sides show signs of deliberate modifications that closely resemble marks made in similar material by sharp-edged tools. The rock did naturally have a “human-like” shape, to begin with, that was accentuated by carving with a stone-wedge.

The figurine, called the Venus of Berekhat Ram, was initially highly controversial as many paleontologists saw it as a product of erosion rather than a deliberate act of creativity. But the discovery of a second similar figurine, the Venus of Tan-Tan, in Morocco, has strengthened the case for this figure and has secured its status as the world’s oldest piece of sculpture found. The rock was dated between a mind-boggling 230,000 and 700,000 years ago, predating our very species, Home sapiens, and even Neanderthal man. It was probably created by an even earlier hominid, like the Homo erectus.

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