Símbolo de 73 mil anos pode ser o desenho mais antigo do mundo

Uma lasca de rocha de uma caverna na África do Sul fez com que especialistas debatessem quando o ser humano desenvolveu características claramente modernas.

Por Erin Blakemore
Publicado 17 de set. de 2018, 11:53 BRT, Atualizado 5 de nov. de 2020, 03:22 BRT
Esta lasca de rocha marcada de ocre foi descoberta na Caverna Blombos, na África do Sul.
Esta lasca de rocha marcada de ocre foi descoberta na Caverna Blombos, na África do Sul.
Foto de Craig Foster

Seventy-three thousand years ago, an early human in what is now South Africa picked up a piece of ocher and used it to scratch a hashtag-like mark onto a piece of stone.

Now, that stone has been discovered by an international team of archaeologists who are calling it the earliest known drawing in history.

According to their report, published today in the journal Nature, the stone predates the previous earliest known cave art—found in Indonesia and Spain—by 30,000 years. That would significantly push back the emergence of “behaviorally modern” activities among ancient Homo sapiens.

But how solid is the find, and can it really be labeled as art? Here’s what you need to know about the discovery and its possible implications.

What did the scientists find?

The archaeologists found a smooth flake of silcrete, a mineral formed when sand and gravel cement together. The inch-and-a-half-long flake is covered in scratch-like markings made with ocher, a hardened, iron-rich material that leaves behind a red pigment.

Where was the stone discovered?

The team found the flake of stone in a dense deposit of artifacts that early Homo sapiens left in Blombos Cave, which lies about 185 miles east of Cape Town, South Africa. Nestled inside the face of a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean, the cave seems to have given small groups of humans a place to rest for brief periods before they headed out to hunt and gather food.

Uma visão panorâmica mostra o interior da Caverna Blombos, onde cientistas descobriram uma variedade de artefatos dos primeiros humanos.
Foto de Magnus Haaland

About 70,000 years ago, the cave closed, sealing in the artifacts from these visits. The cave opened and closed again over the years as sea levels and sand dunes rose and fell, and that did archaeologists a big favor by sealing the cave instead of letting its contents be swept away by the sea.

“The preservation is absolutely perfect,” says the paper’s author, Christopher Henshilwood, an archaeologist who heads up the Center for Early Sapiens Behavior at the University of Bergen. Henshilwood, who has previously received National Geographic grants, has conducted digs at the site since the 1990s.

Inside the cave, scientists have found other evidence of Homo sapiens being crafty from as far back as a hundred thousand years ago. Discoveries so far include perforated shells that archaeologists think were used as beads; tools and spear points; pieces of bone and ocher with scratched faces; and a group of artifacts that seems to point to production of a liquid form of ocher pigment.

Why do researchers think this stone is important?

The discovery shows “that drawing was part of the behavioral repertoire” of early humans, the researchers write. If people were making paints, stringing beads, engraving patterns on bones, and drawing, then they were behaviorally modern as early as 70,000 years ago, and perhaps earlier, Henshilwood says.

“It’s the fourth leg of the table,” he says. The same types of evidence have been used to show the development of early modern humans in Europe, he points out.

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