The finding, published in Nature, was made in Blombos Cave, which is located on the southern coast of South Africa. The research was led by Professor Christopher Henshilwood from the University of Bergen in Norway. It’s thought this cave was used temporarily by hunter-gatherers for stays of a week or two long ago.
The “drawing” consisted of a cross-hatched pattern made of six lines crossed with three lines on a silcrete flake. As such, it was described as a Stone Age “hashtag”. It looks like the pattern was originally much larger, as the lines abruptly end, and may have been more complex. The team think it was made with a pointed ochre crayon, with a tip 1 to 3 millimeters wide.
This particular cave have been found to contain a large number of human artifacts dating back to between 70,000 and 100,000 years. This includes a “tool kit” with two shells inside, filled with an ochre-rich substance similar to a red paint, which proves our ancestors knew how to make paint up to 100,000 years ago.
In their paper the researchers said this discovery “pre-dates the earliest previously known abstract and figurative drawings by at least 30,000 years.” They used chemical and microscopic analyses to confirm that it had been created by a human hand, demonstrating that Homo sapiens in southern Africa were behaviourally modern.
“The discovery… demonstrates that drawing was part of the behavioural repertoire of populations of early Homo sapiens in southern Africa,” the authors wrote. “It demonstrates their ability to apply similar graphic designs on various media using different techniques.”