His­tor­i­cal arte­fact found in Cape cave

Pre-dates pre­vi­ous old­est known draw­ings by 30 000 years

The Mercury - - METRO - WILL DUNHAM

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.

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