October 4, 2023


An Interactive Session

Multimedia graphic design — 73,000 years ago | HeritageDaily

4 min read

The earliest proof of a drawing made by human beings has been observed in Blombos Cave in the southern Cape in South Africa.

The drawing, which is composed of a few red traces cross-hatched with 6 separate strains, was intentionally drawn on a clean silcrete flake about 73 000 several years ago. This predates earlier drawing from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia by at least 30 000 a long time.

The drawing on the silcrete flake was a stunning locate by archaeologist Dr Luca Pollarolo, an honorary investigate fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), although he painstakingly sifted through countless numbers of identical flakes that were excavated from Blombos Cave at the Wits College satellite laboratory in Cape City.


Blombos Cave has been excavated by Professor Christopher Henshilwood and Dr Karen van Niekerk since 1991. It is made up of content dating from 100 000 – 70 000 decades back, a time period referred to as the Center Stone Age, as very well as more youthful, Later on Stone Age material relationship from 2000 – 300 many years back.

Henshilwood retains a Investigation Chair at the College of Witwatersrand in South Africa, and is the Director of a newly granted Centre of Excellence at the University of Bergen, Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE). Van Niekerk is a Principal Investigator at SapienCE. The team’s results on the 73 000-yr-outdated drawing was published in the substantial impression journal, Mother nature, on 12 September.

Realising that the traces on the flake had been compared with just about anything that the group experienced arrive across from the cave before, they set out to answer the questions it posed. Had been these traces organic, or a component of the matrix of the rock? Were being they, maybe, manufactured by human beings residing in Blombos Cave 73 000 several years back? If people designed the strains, how did they make them, and why?

Underneath the assistance of Professor Francesco d’Errico at the PACEA lab of the College of Bordeaux, France (the 2nd author of the paper) the group examined and photographed the piece under a microscope to create regardless of whether the strains were being section of the stone or no matter whether it was utilized to it. To be certain their benefits, they also examined the piece by making use of RAMAN spectroscopy and an electron microscope. Following confirming the strains ended up used to the stone, the staff experimented with a variety of paint and drawing procedures and uncovered that the drawings have been created with an ochre crayon, with a idea of between 1 and 3 millimetres thick. Further, the abrupt termination of the lines at the edge of the flake also prompt that the sample at first prolonged in excess of a bigger floor, and may have been far more advanced in its entirety.


“Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a extensive time been convinced that unambiguous symbols very first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40 000 many years ago, and later replaced nearby Neanderthals,” states Henshilwood. “Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, Europe and Asia, in which associates of our group have generally participated, assist a significantly previously emergence for the generation and use of symbols.”

The earliest known engraving, a zig-zag sample, incised on a refreshing water shell from Trinil, Java, was discovered in levels dated to 540 000 years ago and a latest short article has proposed that painted representations in 3 caves of the Iberian Peninsula have been 64,000 a long time aged and for that reason generated by Neanderthals. This helps make the drawing on the Blombos silcrete flake the oldest drawing by Homo sapiens ever uncovered.

Although abstract and figurative representations are typically deemed conclusive indicators of the use of symbols, evaluating the symbolic dimension of the earliest attainable graphisms is difficult.

Symbols are an inherent component of our humanity. They can be inscribed on our bodies in the type of tattoos and scarifications or cover them by means of the software of distinct garments, ornaments and the way we costume our hair.

Language, writing, mathematics, faith, legislation could not maybe exist with no the usually human ability to learn the generation and transmission of symbols and our skill to embody them in product society. Significant development has been manufactured in understanding how our mind perceives and procedures various categories of symbols, but our information on how and when symbols forever permeated the tradition of our ancestors is however imprecise and speculative.

The archaeological layer in which the Blombos drawing was uncovered also yielded other indicators of symbolic contemplating, these types of as shell beads coated with ochre, and, much more importantly, items of ochres engraved with abstract patterns. Some of these engravings carefully resemble the 1 drawn on the silcrete flake.

“This demonstrates that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape applied unique strategies to deliver equivalent indications on unique media,” suggests Henshilwood. “This observation supports the hypothesis that these indicators were being symbolic in mother nature and represented an inherent element of the behaviourally present day entire world of these African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us currently.”


Header Impression – This is the outdoors of Blombos Cave in the southern Cape in South Africa. Credit score : Magnus Haaland

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