Oldest known drawing by human hands discovered in South African cave
NY times: Nine red lines on a stone flake found in a South African cave may be the earliest known drawing made by Homo sapiens, archaeologists reported on Wednesday. The artifact, which scientists think is about 73,000 years old, predates the oldest previously known modern human abstract drawings from Europe by about 30,000 years.
“We knew a lot of things Homo sapiens could do, but we didn’t know they could do drawings back then,” said Christopher Henshilwood, an archaeologist from the University of Bergen in Norway and lead author of the study.
The finding, which was published in Nature, may provide insight into the origins of humanity’s use of symbols, which laid the foundation for language, mathematics and civilization.
The ancient drawing was unearthed in Blombos Cave, which is about 200 miles east of Cape Town. Archaeological deposits at the site date from 70,000 to 100,000 years ago during the Middle Stone Age. Inside the cave, scientists have uncovered Homo sapiens’ teeth, spear points, bone tools, engravings and beads made from seashells. Luca Pollarolo, a research fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, was cleaning some artifacts excavated from the site in 2011 when he stumbled across a small flake, measuring only about the size of two thumbnails, that appeared to have been drawn on. The markings consisted of six straight, almost parallel lines that were crossed diagonally by three slightly curved lines.
“I think I saw more than ten thousand artifacts in my life up to now, and I never saw red lines on a flake,” said Dr. Pollarolo. “I could not believe what I had in my hands.”
He contacted Dr. Henshilwood and Karen van Niekerk, also an archaeologist from the University of Bergen, and they agreed that the flake was worthy of further investigation.
They took the artifact to France to be examined by Francesco d’Errico, an archaeologist at the University of Bordeaux. There, the team had to determine whether the red lines were drawn onto the stone, and if they weren’t, what were they made of.