A 73,000-year-old Painting found in South Africa

A 73,000-year-old Painting found in South Africa

A team of researchers found the first known drawing of the world but couldn’t determine its meaning.

Drawings have always been a part of human nature. Archaeologists have found a lot of signs at the early human sites in Australia, France, and South Africa which shows the inclination of humanity towards drawing. Recently, researchers found the first known drawing of the world on a rock flake in South Africa which is 73,000 years old. The experts who analyzed the hashtag-like design believe that Homo sapiens used a red-ochre crayon to draw this historic sign. Christopher Henshilwood, the Director of the Center for Early Sapiens Behavior at the University of Bergen, was among the researchers of the study. He said,

It seems to be part of the human repertoire of producing signs.

This 3.8-centimeter-long rock flake was found in Blombos Cave. This archaeological site is located at a distance of 300 kilometers from the city of Cape Town. A lot of Middle Stone Age artifacts have been discovered in this cave. That list includes engraved stone tools and shell beads which were left by the humans who inhabited these parts somewhere between 100,000 and 70,000 years ago.

Henshilwood acknowledged that Luca Pollarolo, who is a Technical Assistant in Anthropology and African Archaeology at the University of Geneva and a Co-author of the study, was the one who found this ancient drawing for the first time in 2015. He mentioned that Luca was examining sediment samples, extracted from the cave when he came across this rock flake. The flake was covered with a lot of dirt and ash but the red crosshatch lines were clearly visible after a quick wash. Henshilwood compared the drawing with a ‘hashtag’ as 3 slightly curved lines cross 6 parallel lines. He also told the world that this piece of art predates all the other known early human drawings by 30,000 years, at least.

Given the timeframe of this drawing, it is pretty natural to doubt its authenticity. In order to verify that the drawing was made by the Homo sapiens and there was nothing natural about it, Francesco d’Errico, a Professor at the University of Bordeaux, was incorporated into the research. He assisted the researching team in capturing the images of the artifact and concluded that the lines were drawn by hand. In addition to that, the researchers determined that the ochre crayon used to draw these lines had a tip which was 1 to 3 millimeters thick. They also found evidence that the stone was smoothed before drawing lines.

Archaeologists believe that the drawing originally covered a larger surface because they observed a sudden termination of the lines. Henshilwood explained that the flake was once a part of a larger grindstone and they are trying to find more of that but they haven’t had much luck in that respect until now. According to the researchers, the artists behind this drawing were hunter-gatherers who used to catch elephants, hippos, and big fish. Henshilwood referred to that by saying,

They probably had a lot of free time to sit around the fire and talk and make things like jewelry.”

This discovery was very much on the cards despite being a marvelous achievement in itself. Emmanuelle Honoré, who was not a part of the study and serves as a Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, mentioned that it is an incredible discovery but it is not a surprise at all given the previous discoveries of the early art. She praised the finding in the following words:

“It contributes to evidence of the development of what we can call the ‘early symbolic behavior’ or more largely the ‘symbolic mind’ of our species, Homo sapiens. It also shows how fast prehistoric studies are evolving: 50 years ago, we would never have suspected such a degree of intellectual refinement for such ancient (‘primitive’ was the term rather used at that time) societies.”

Get a glimpse of a 3D view of the ancient drawing:


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