The earliest ever human drawing was a complex ‘hashtag’, scientists have found, proving man was capable of abstract thought far earlier than previously thought.
Consisting of three red lines cross-hatched with six separate lines, the sketch was intentionally drawn on a smooth silcrete flake about 73,000 years ago.
It was found in Blombos Cave in the southern Cape in South Africa and predates previous drawing from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia by at least 30,000 years.
The slice of rock containing the drawing was discovered by archaeologist Dr Luca Pollarolo, of the University of the Witwatersrand, who at first thought the crossed lines were a natural feature.
But after studying thousands of similar flakes, Dr Pollarolo and Professor Christopher Henshilwood, who has been excavating the cave since 1991, concluded they could only have been made intentionally, probably with an ocher crayon.
“Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a long time been convinced that unambiguous symbols first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40 000 years ago, and later replaced local Neanderthals,” said Prof Henshilwood.
“Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, Europe and Asia, in which members of our team have often participated, support a much earlier emergence for the production and use of symbols.”
The team also examined and photographed the piece under a microscope to establish whether the lines were part of the stone or if they had been added later.
And after confirming the lines were applied to the stone, the team experimented with various paint and drawing techniques and found that the drawings were made with an ochre crayon, with a tip of between 1 and 3 millimetres thick.
The abrupt termination of the lines at the edge of the flake also suggests that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface, and may have been far more complex.
The earliest known engraving, a zig-zag pattern, incised on a fresh water shell from Trinil, Java, was found in layers dated to 540 000 years ago and a recent article has proposed that painted representations in three caves of the Iberian Peninsula were 64,000 years old and therefore produced by Neanderthals.
It means the drawing on the Blombos silcrete flake the oldest drawing by Homo sapiens ever found.
The ability to produce symbols is thought to be a crucial part of humanity, eventually allowing the development of language and writing.
The archaeological layer in which the Blombos drawing was found also yielded other examples of symbolic thinking, such as shell beads covered with ochre, and, pieces of ochres engraved with abstract patterns.
Some of these engravings closely resemble the one drawn on the silcrete flake.
“This demonstrates that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape used different techniques to produce similar signs on different media,” added Prof Henshilwood.
“This observation supports the hypothesis that these signs were symbolic in nature and represented an inherent aspect of the behaviourally modern world of these African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us today.”
The research was published in the journal Nature.
Credit: Source link