Archaeologists Are Hailing A 73,000-Year-Old Stone Flake Drawing As World’s First Art

The 73,000-year-old stone flake was colored with ocher and was found in Blombos Cave in South Africa.

A 73,000-year-old drawing on a stone flake found in Blombos Cave, South Africa is called world's first art.
Todor Rusinov / Shutterstock

The 73,000-year-old stone flake was colored with ocher and was found in Blombos Cave in South Africa.

In a new study that was just published today, a team of international archaeologists have hailed the discovery in Blombos Cave in South Africa of a 73,000-year-old stone flake that was colored by ocher, calling it the world’s first art.

According to National Geographic, the drawing itself is somewhat understated and can be likened to what almost looks like a modern-day hashtag. However, given the immense age of the art, archaeologists have said that its discovery greatly moves back what were previously believed to be “behaviorally modern” activities for Homo sapiens.

In fact, the 73,000-year-old ocher drawing is significantly older than the spectacular cave art that has been found in Spain and Indonesia, and would have been created nearly 30,000 years before Homo sapiens were drawing pictures of wild animals and other objects in these European caves.

The drawing itself was placed on a flake of silcrete, which is a mineral that results from the mixture of sand and gravel, and with ocher being used to create and color the tiny scratches on the flake, the sharp red lines that were left behind by ancient Homo sapiens in South Africa can still be seen today.

Blombos Cave, where the stone flake was found, sits 185 miles away from Cape Town and sits inside a cliff that looks out over the Indian Ocean. Archaeologists believe that caves such as these would have given humans a much-needed rest from their daily routines and other activities before they set back out again to continue hunting and gathering.

Fortunately for archaeologists, around 70,000 years ago Blombos Cave became closed, which kept the precious artifacts inside of it safe from the world outside. Christopher Henshilwood, who is the author of the new study on the 73,000-year-old stone drawing, notes that “the preservation is absolutely perfect.”

Besides what has been called the world’s first art, archaeologists also recovered a wide range of artifacts from inside the cave which include perforated shells, spear points, and other handy hunting tools, along with the remains of bones and ocher.

According to Henshilwood, he believes the discovery of this art is crucial as it demonstrates that even tens of thousands of years ago “drawing was part of the behavioral repertoire” of Homo sapiens.

When asked whether the hashtag drawing truly constituted art, Henshilwood replied that this is something that is open to interpretation but that it is, however, a symbol of some kind.

“Art is a very hard thing to define. Look at some of Picasso’s abstracts. Is that art? Who’s going to tell you it’s art or not?”

The new study on the 73,000-year-old stone flake and ocher drawing that was found in South Africa and has been determined to be the world’s first art has been published in Nature.