'Oldest known drawing' a hashtag found in South Africa

Enlarge  This small flake of silcrete bears the oldest drawing ever discovered,Craig Foster

Enlarge This small flake of silcrete bears the oldest drawing ever discovered,Craig Foster

The abstract design, vaguely resembling a hashtag, was drawn by hunter-gatherers who periodically dwelled in Blombos cave overlooking the Indian Ocean, about 300 kilometres east of Cape Town, the researchers said.

It predates previously discovered drawings by at least 30,000 years.

Only much later did archaeologist Luca Pollarolo notice its potential significance as he painstakingly sifted through thousands of similar items, and sent a photograph to Henshilwood.

"The abrupt termination of all lines on the fragment edges indicates that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface", he said.

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

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During the Middle Stone Age, early humans used ochre for things other than drawing, including as an additive to glue and as a sunscreen, according to the researchers. They used a microscope to compare lines drawn with a pointed piece of ochre with a 1mm-3mm tip to lines that were painted onto silcrete - and then compared these with the original.

Numerous other artefacts were found in Blombos Cave, including beads covered in red ochreand a paint-making kit dating back around 100,000 years. "It demonstrates their ability to apply similar graphic designs on various media using [a] different technique". 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.

Modern humans, known as Homo sapiens, first appeared more than 315,000 years ago in Africa, later trekking to other parts of the world.

Besides what has been called the world's first art, archaeologists also recovered a wide range of artifacts from inside the cave which include perforated shells, spear points, and other handy hunting tools, along with the remains of bones and ocher.

Paul Bahn, author of Archaeology: The Essential Guide to Our Human Past, said this particular discovery doesn't really change our understanding of human history, though it's a welcome new piece of evidence. We already have markings in four caves (three in Spain, one in France) that can safely be attributed to Neanderthals, and we even have a few examples of markings from Homo erectus times. Stay tuned, as this story is likely far from over.

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