Scientists Find Oldest Rock Drawing in South African Cave

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. artifact / ˈɑɚtɪˌfækt / (n) – an old object, such as a tool, that shows how life was like during the time it was made

    Artifacts like old pottery and stone tools let scientists understand how early humans lived.

  2. fragment / ˈfrægmənt / (n) – a broken piece of something

    After the vase broke, fragments of glass were scattered all over the floor.

  3. crosshatch / ˈkrɑːsˌhætʃ / (n) – a pattern made with lines crossing each other

    Artists usually shade areas darker using crosshatch patterns.

  4. migrate / ˈmaɪˌgreɪt / (v) – to move and live from one place to another

    My family migrated to Canada when I was little because of my dad’s job.

  5. engraving / ɪnˈgreɪvɪŋ / (n) – something (such as images, symbols, or words) carved onto a surface

    There was an engraving of dragons in the ancient pottery from the sunken ships.


Read the text below.

Scientists have just discovered the oldest known rock drawing in the world.

The drawing was found in Blombos Cave, South Africa, which has been the source of numerous artifacts from about 70,000 to 100,000 years ago.  Created on a rock fragment, the drawing was composed with crosshatch strokes and was described to resemble a “hashtag.” Based on archaeologists’ findings, the 73,000-year-old drawing was sketched by Homo sapiens, the species to which all modern humans belong.

Researchers studied the artifact using electron microscopy, a procedure that makes observing small details easier, and Raman spectroscopy [spek-TROS-kuh-pee], a technique that helps identify the chemical composition of a sample. Through these methods, the researchers determined that the strokes were drawn with red ochre [OH-ker], a rock rich in iron. Furthermore, the researchers speculated that the drawing was part of a bigger and more complex picture, based on its stroke patterns.

For a long time, archaeologists believed that the Homo sapiens only began drawing symbols on rocks when these humans entered Europe about 40,000 years ago. The recent discovery is a sign that early humans had started doing this practice even before they migrated to Europe.

While the artifact from Blombos Cave is the oldest known drawing made on a rock, an earlier discovery has already shown evidence of early humans using tools to mark surfaces. In 2014, researchers found a zigzag line carved on a 400,000- to 500,000-year-old shell in Indonesia. They concluded that it was carved by an earlier human species called Homo erectus and is considered to be the oldest engraving ever discovered.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Why do you think it is important to know how old artifacts are?
• In your opinion, what was the purpose of drawings and symbols to early humans? Explain.

Discussion B

• Why is it necessary to study the behavior of early humans?
• What other information about the behavior of early humans would you like to know? Why?