Criss­crossed lines called world’s old­est draw­ing

Times Colonist - - Life - MAL­COLM RIT­TER

NEW YORK — It looks a bit like a hash­tag, but it’s 73,000 years old. And sci­en­tists say the 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’s at least 30,000 years older than any other known draw­ing, re­searchers said in a re­port re­leased this week 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 mil­lime­ters long and about 15 mil­lime­ters tall. It’s ev­i­dently part of a larger draw­ing be­cause lines reach­ing the edge are cut off abruptly, re­searchers said.

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.

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