73,000 year-old prehistoric drawing is the earliest found

The tiny collection of lines is about 30,000 years older than the oldest previous finds ... but what does it mean?
prehistoric drawing If you're a fan of early human drawings, this is as early as it gets! (Craig Foster/University of Bergen/Nature)

Are you a frustrated artist? Try as you might, you just can't get others to look at your work? Perhaps all you need is a bit of time for your work to appreciate in value?

Like say, around ... 70,000 years?

We say this because paleontologist art fans around the world are buzzing over the discovery of the oldest drawing ever discovered. According to an announcement in Nature magazine, the prehistoric drawing was found in 2011 in Blombos Cave in South Africa. After tests and analysis, experts conclude that it is about 73,000 years old. And just look at it. It's just a few scratches in red on a rock.

You could draw something like that easily, right?

Only part of the picture

prehistoric drawing rock

This diagram shows the markings more clearly and also how researchers believe the lines would've continued on the rest of the rock. (University of Bergen/Nature)

Of course, to be fair to our paleo-Picasso, this piece of rock isn't the complete masterpiece. It's just a flake that chipped off of something larger. In fact, the shard is only around 5 cm long—that's about the width of a pair of thumbnails together. In other words, it's anyone's guess as to what the entire picture looked like. This could even just be the part of the rock where the artist tested the 'crayon' out before doing the actual art somewhere else!

But regardless of what these scratches were a part of, experts believe that they are proof of an attempt to make a mark. Researchers performed tests trying to recreate the marks and came to some conclusions.

The artist would've used a piece of ochre to make the prehistoric drawing. Ochre is a reddish, iron-rich rock—the iron gives it its colour. The rock would've needed to be shaved to a point and been held firmly to make such fine lines (each line is around 1 to 3mm wide, which is similar to the average pencil).

Art or something else

So it was done on purpose. It predates other earlier human drawings by a good 30,000 years, making it the oldest ever. And because the cave where it was discovered is rich in other early human artifacts, it was clearly made by early Homo sapiens like ourselves. But was it art?

In an interview with The Rappler, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen said, "We would be hesitant to call it 'art.' It is definitely an abstract design; it almost certainly had some meaning to the maker..."

In other words, it might be a stretch to say that this was a part of a drawing done out of creativity or to express something. But it was certainly done intentionally, and probably to communicate something.

And look at it now! 73,000 years later, and it's a prehistoric drawing that we're all transfixed by. So don't give up hope, folks. All that separates your latest scribble and international acclaim is 70 millennia or so!

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