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Oldest known human drawing found in South African cave

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By Alice Tidey & Reuters
Red ochre markings on a stone flake discovered in Blombos Cave
Red ochre markings on a stone flake discovered in Blombos Cave   -   Copyright  Craig Foster/Handout via REUTERS

Scientists said on Wednesday that they have discovered the world's oldest drawing on a small rock in South Africa.

The drawing, found at Blombos Cave, some 300km east of Cape Town in South Africa, is approximately 73,000-years-old and vaguely resembles a hashtag sign with several criss-crossed lines.

It predates previous oldest known drawings by at least 30,000 years and was made with red ochre pigment, which has been used by human species for at least 285,000 years.

Archeologist Christopher Henshilwood told Reuters that he "would be hesitant to call it art".

"It is definitely an abstract design and it almost certainly had some meaning to the maker, and it probably formed a part of the common symbolic system understood by other people in this group," he added.

The rock with the drawing measures about 38.6mm long and 12.8mm wide.

"The abrupt termination of all lines on the fragment edges indicates that the pattern originally extended over a large surface. The pattern was probably more complex and structured in its entirety than in this truncated form," Henshilwood explained.

Magnus M. Haaland/Handout via REUTERS
Researchers work inside Blombos Cave on South Africa's southern coast.Magnus M. Haaland/Handout via REUTERS

Numerous other artefacts were found in Blombos Cave, including beads covered in red ochreand a paint-making kit dating back around 100,000 years.

For the scientists, who published their findings in the journal Nature, these artefacts "are a prime indicator of modern cognition and behaviour" by early African Homo Sapiens.

Africa is considered to be the birthplace of modern man with Homo Sapiens first appearing there more than 315,000 years ago.