What is the oldest science in history

Oldest symbol drawing of mankind

Whether cross, circle or hashtag - symbols are commonplace for us modern people. But it is still unclear when our ancestors began drawing abstract patterns and symbols. Archaeologists have now discovered the oldest abstract drawing of Homo sapiens in a cave in South Africa. It is 73,000 years old and therefore around 30,000 years older than previously known paintings by our ancestors. The drawing is a kind of hashtag and other lines that have been drawn with an ocher pen on a stone chipping almost four centimeters long.

Art, jewelry and the use of symbols are considered to be decisive steps in the spiritual development of man. For a long time, this cognitive performance was only trusted to Homo sapiens - the kind of people to which we also belong. This was supported by the fact that the earliest examples of rock paintings and carved drawings in Europe were only created by our ancestors who immigrated from Africa - at least that's what they thought. But in recent years archaeological finds have refuted this notion. A new dating of red handprints and lines in three Spanish caves showed an age of at least 64,000 years - this cave art must therefore come from the time of the Neanderthals. You could also have created the abstract incised patterns in Gorham Cave on Gibraltar. And on Java, archaeologists have discovered a clam shell around 500,000 years old with an incised zigzag pattern that could even come from Homo erectus.

Ocher “hashtag” on a stone fragment

However, it was unclear when Homo sapiens first became an artist and drew abstract symbols. Did he already start doing this in his native Africa? Or did he only develop this ability after emigrating to Europe? An answer to this question is now provided by a find in the Blombos Cave, around 300 kilometers east of Cape Town. Excavations have already unearthed numerous traces of early human settlement, including stone tools, spearheads, bone needles and ocher-colored shell beads from around 73,000 to 77,000 years ago. A tool set for pigment preparation around 100,000 years old was also found here.

The new find by Christopher Henshilwood from the University of Bergen and his team consists of a four-centimeter-long fragment of silicate rock. The researchers discovered nine lines painted with ocher on it, some of which intersect and some of which run parallel. Four of the lines appear to form a kind of diamond - similar to a Stone Age hashtag. The big question now was whether these lines were natural or human. To clarify this, Henshilwood and his team carefully examined the stone in the laboratory under the microscope and using Raman spectroscopy.

Oldest abstract drawing of Homo sapiens

The analyzes showed: stone and line patterns are around 73,000 years old and created by human hands. The elongated chunk of silicate was shaped by targeted cuts and painted with ocher pigment. “The width of the lines suggests that they were drawn with an ocher pen with a 1.3 to 3.3 millimeter wide tip,” the scientists report. "The abrupt end of all lines at the edges of the stone fragment also shows that this pattern originally extended over a larger surface - the pattern was probably even more complex and structured than can be seen on this fragment." According to Henshilwood and his colleagues, a human must have deliberately and purposefully painted this crossed line pattern on the stone.

"The discovery of this drawing demonstrates that drawing was part of the behavioral repertoire of the early Homo sapiens populations in South Africa around 73,000 years ago," the researchers state. The “Stone Age hashtag” is the oldest known abstract painting known to man. “The cross pattern on this stone was created at least 30,000 years earlier than the previously known abstract and figurative paintings by Homo sapiens.” Also interesting: very similar patterns were discovered in the same layer that had been scratched into pieces of ocher. "The early Homo sapiens apparently used different techniques to produce similar patterns on different media," says Henshilwood.

Source: Christopher Henshilwood (University of Bergen) et al., Nature, doi: 10.1038 / s41586-018-0514-3

September 12, 2018

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