Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
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'Oldest known drawing' a hashtag found in South Africa

'Oldest known drawing' a hashtag found in South Africa

Scientists have found a tiny fragment of rock marked with intersecting lines of red ocher pigment some 73,000 years ago.

The flake was found in Blombos Cave on the south coast of South Africa, and pre-dates previous human drawings by more than 30,000 years.

But after studying thousands of similar flakes, Dr Pollarolo and Professor Christopher Henshilwood, who has been excavating the cave since 1991, concluded they could only have been made intentionally, probably with an ocher crayon.

Among the artefacts was a small flake of silicate rock, onto which a three-by-six line cross-hatched pattern had been intentionally drawn in red ochre.

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

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

The outside of Blombos Cave, where the drawing was discovered.

The pattern was probably more complex and structured in its entirety than in this truncated form'.

This has shifted our thinking about when human ancestors started drawing.


While archaeologists have found older engravings around the world, including one in Java that is at least half-a-million years old, the "hashtag" is the oldest-known drawing and not just a collection of random scratching.

He told Reuters that while the team would be "hesitant to call it art", it nearly definitely had "some meaning to the maker".

The finding gives evidence that early humans could store information outside the brain and supports the argument that early members of our species "behaved essentially like us" before they left Africa for Europe and Asia, he said.

The presence of similar cross-hatched patterns engraved on ochre fragments found in the same archaeological level and older levels suggests the pattern in question was reproduced with different techniques on different media.

The people who drew the hashtag were hunter-gatherers who excelled at catching big game, including hippos, elephants and 60-lb.

Blombos Cave, where the stone flake was found, sits 185 miles away from Cape Town and sits inside a cliff that looks out over the Indian Ocean.

In fact, the 73,000-year-old ocher drawing is significantly older than the spectacular cave art that has been found in Spain and Indonesia, and would have been created almost 30,000 years before Homo sapiens were drawing pictures of wild animals and other objects in these European caves.

Back in 2011, a painting kit made of abalone shells dating 100,000 years old was discovered in the cave, as well an an earlier discovery of ochre-painted shell beads. The oldest known engraving, for instance, is another piece of abstract art: a zigzag line that Homo erectus carved onto a shell 540,000 years ago in Indonesia, Live Science previously reported.

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