Historical artefact found in Cape cave
Pre-dates previous oldest known drawings by 30 000 years
WASHINGTON: A small stone flake marked with intersecting lines of red ochre pigment some 73 000 years ago that was found in a cave on South Africa’s southern coast represents what archaeologists this week called the oldest-known example of a human drawing.
The abstract design, vaguely resembling a hashtag, was drawn by hunter-gatherers who periodically lived in the Blombos Cave, which overlooks the Indian Ocean, roughly 300km east of Cape Town, the researchers said.
It pre-dates the previous oldest-known drawings by at least 30 000 years.
While the design appears rudimentary, the fact that it was sketched so long ago is significant, suggesting the existence of modern cognitive abilities in our species, Homo sapiens, during a time known as the Middle Stone Age, the researchers said.
The cross-hatched design drawn with ochre, a pigment used by our species dating back at least 285 000 years, consists of a set of six straight lines crossed by three slightly curved lines.
The coarse-grained stone flake measures 38.6mm long and 12.8mm wide.
“The abrupt termination of all lines on the fragment edges indicates that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface,” said archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood, of the University of Bergen in Norway and the University of the Witwatersrand, and who led the research published in the journal Nature
“The pattern was probably more complex and structured in its entirety than in this truncated form. We would be hesitant to call it art. It is definitely an abstract design,” Henshilwood said.
“And 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,” Henshilwood added.
Other Blombos Cave artefacts of similar age included ochre pieces engraved with abstract patterns resembling the one drawn on the stone. Artefacts dating from 100 000 years ago included a red ochre-based paint.
“All these findings demonstrate that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape used different techniques to produce similar signs on different media,” Henshilwood said.
“This observation supports the hypothesis that these signs were symbolic in nature and represented an inherent aspect of the advanced cognitive abilities of these early African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us today,” he said.
Researchers working inside the Blombos Cave found this stone flake with red ochre markings – one of the oldest-known examples of human drawings. It pre-dates the previous oldest-known drawings by 30 000 years.