In September 2018, a small stone fragment sketched with intersecting lines of red ochre pigment was found in Blombos cave on South Africa’s southern coast. The abstract design is about 73,000 years old and archaeologists have called it the oldest-known example of a human drawing.
Vaguely resembling a hashtag, this drawing predates previous oldest-known drawings by at least 30,000 years! Researchers say it was drawn by hunter-gatherers who dwelled in Blombos Cave, about 300km east of Cape Town. This find is significant as it suggests the existence of modern cognitive abilities in our species, during a time known as the Middle Stone Age. Other artifacts found in the Blombos Cave included ochre-covered shell beads and other pieces engraved with abstract patterns.
“All these findings demonstrate that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape used different techniques to produce similar signs on different media,” said Christopher Henshilwood, leader of the research team and director of the Centre for Early Sapiens Behavior at the University of Bergen in Norway. “This observation supports the hypothesis that these signs were symbolic in nature and represented an inherent aspect of the advanced cognitive abilities these early African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us today.”
Rock art was a common form of expression among ancient people, and is the oldest known African art form. Early paintings would depict everyday life of ancient Africans, representing people and animals. As time went on, however, rock paintings became more abstract, and the San for example, started depicting spirits and other figures.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Rock paintings and engravings are Africa's oldest continuously practiced art form. Depictions of elegant human figures, richly hued animals, and figures combining human and animal features—called therianthropes and associated with shamanism—continue to inspire admiration for their sophistication, energy, and direct, powerful forms.”
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