Crossed lines found in cave are old­est known draw­ing

The Prince George Citizen - - Science - Mal­colm RIT­TER

NEW YORK — It looks a bit like a hash­tag, but it’s 73,000 years old. And sci­en­tists say this tiny sketch found in a South African cave is the old­est known draw­ing.

It’s not the ear­li­est de­lib­er­ate de­sign; some ab­stract en­grav­ings are far older. But the draw­ing shows early hu­mans in south­ern Africa could pro­duce de­signs on var­i­ous sur­faces with dif­fer­ent tech­niques.

The col­lec­tion of criss­crossed lines was found in the Blom­bos Cave about 300 kilo­me­tres east of Cape Town.

It is at least 30,000 years older than any other known draw­ing, re­searchers say in a re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day by the jour­nal Na­ture.

It was cre­ated with a sharp­ened flake of ochre, a pig­ment widely used in the an­cient world, said Christo­pher Hen­shilwood of the Univer­sity of Ber­gen in Nor­way.

The draw­ing is ba­si­cally six red lines crossed by three other slightly curved lines.

It ap­pears on a tiny flake of min­eral crust mea­sur­ing only about 39 mm long and about 15 mm tall.

It’s ev­i­dently part of a larger draw­ing be­cause lines reach­ing the edge are cut off abruptly there, re­searchers said.

The draw­ing was ap­par­ently made be­fore the flake was de­lib­er­ately struck off of a grind­ing stone used to make ochre pow­der, Hen­shilwood said in an email.

Sim­i­lar pat­terns are en­graved in other ar­ti­facts from the cave, and the hash­tag de­sign was pro­duced widely over the past 100,000 years in rock art and paint­ings, he said.

So the newly found sketch is prob­a­bly not just a col­lec­tion of ran­dom scratch­ings.

“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 said.

The find­ing gives ev­i­dence that early hu­mans could store in­for­ma­tion out­side the brain and sup­ports the ar­gu­ment that early mem­bers of our species “be­haved es­sen­tially like us” be­fore they left Africa for Europe and Asia, he said.

Sil­via Bello, a re­searcher at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Lon­don who didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the study, called the find­ing im­por­tant.

“It fur­ther shows how rich and com­plex hu­man be­hav­iour al­ready was 73,000 years ago,” she said in an email.


This un­dated photo pro­vided by Craig Fos­ter in Septem­ber 2018 shows a draw­ing made with ochre pig­ment on sil­crete stone, found in the Blom­bos Cave in South Africa. In a re­port re­leased on Wed­nes­day, sci­en­tists say this tiny 73,000-year-old sketch is the old­est known draw­ing.

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