Scientists have discovered what they claim is the oldest known human drawing in a cave in South Africa.
Looking a little bit like a hashtag, the drawing is believed to be around 73,000 years old. That predates the previously discovered early scrawlings of humans in Asia, Europe and other parts of Africa by around 30,000 years.
It was found in Blombos Cave, which is around 300km (186 miles) west of Cape Town and is described as ‘a cross-hatched pattern drawn with an ochre crayon on a ground silcrete flake.’
Christopher Henshilwood, a professor from Norway’s University of Bergen, led the discovery team which has published the results of his findings in the journal Nature.
The world’s oldest drawing, believed to be 73,000 years old (Image: Craig Foster)He says calling it art is a bit of a stretch – but the prehistoric pattern did have some kind of significance.
‘It is definitely an abstract design; it almost certainly had some meaning to the maker and probably formed a part of the common symbolic system understood by other people in this group,’ he told The Conversation.
‘It’s also evidence of early humans’ ability to store information outside of the human brain,” he said.
Archaeologists work in Blombos Cave in South Africa (Image: Magnus Haaland)A major methodological challenge was to prove these lines were deliberately drawn by humans. It was primarily tackled by the team’s French members, experts in these matters and specialized in the chemical analysis of pigments.
First they reproduced the same lines using various techniques: They tried fragments of ocher with a point or an edge and also applied different aqueous dilutions of ocher powder using brushes.
Using techniques of microscopic, chemical, and tribological analysis, they then compared their drawings to the ancient original. Their findings confirm the lines were intentionally drawn with a pointed ocher implement on a surface first smoothed by rubbing. In other words, it’s a conscious drawing made by an early human.
‘The discovery adds to our existing understanding of Homo sapiens in Africa,’ Henshilwood said.
‘They were behaviourally modern: they behaved essentially like us. They were able to produce and use symbolic material culture to mediate their behaviour, just like we do now.’
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