Stone in South African cave boasts oldest-known human drawing

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 14, 2018

The drawing, found at Blombos Cave, some 300km east of Cape Town in South Africa, is approximately 73,000-years-old and vaguely resembles a hashtag sign with several criss-crossed lines.

Scientists say they have discovered humanity's oldest known drawing on a small fragment of rock in South Africa.

Study co-researcher Luca Pollarolo, a technical assistant in anthropology and African archaeology at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, made the actual discovery in 2015, when he was going through sediment samples in the lab, which excavators had painstakingly "removed millimeter by millimeter" from the cave, Henshilwood said.

However, given the vast age of the art, archaeologists have said that its discovery greatly moves back what were previously believed to be "behaviorally modern" activities for Homo sapiens.

The drawing, which consists of three red lines intersecting with six other lines, is reminiscent of the pound symbol.

According to National Geographic, the drawing itself is somewhat understated and can be likened to what nearly looks like a modern-day hashtag.

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. This means the original drawing likely extended over a larger surface area, and that "the pattern was probably more complex and structured in its entirety than in this truncated form", the researchers write in the study. Christopher Henshilwood, who is the author of the new study on the 73,000-year-old stone drawing, notes that "the preservation is absolutely flawless".

Abstract engravings are actually quite common in the archaeological record, with other examples including a 370,000-year-old engraved bone from Bilzingsleben, Germany, and markings on a 90,000-year-old skull found in Qafzeh cave in Israel, among others.

The team first confirmed that the lines were ochre, and conducted a series of experiments to figure out how the drawing was made.

"It's also evidence of early humans" ability to store information outside of the human brain", he said.

He told Reuters that while the team would be "hesitant to call it art", it nearly definitely had "some meaning to the maker". "Is that art? Who's going to tell you it's art or not?"

"They also had syntactic language - essential for conveying symbolic meaning within and across groups of hunter gatherers who were present in southern Africa at that time".

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

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, Henshilwood said.

The earliest known engraving, a zig-zag pattern, was discovered 540,000 years ago in Java, Indonesia.

The silcrete flake was found in a layer of sediment previously dated to 73,000 years old, and in a cave that has previously been found to contain ochre pieces.

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