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When Did Humans Start Drawing?

Updated May 17, 2024
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Twitter might seem ubiquitous, but it's only been around for about 15 years, not 73,000. Still, it's hard not to notice the similarity between the social media site's iconic hashtag symbol and the prehistoric drawing inside a seaside cave in South Africa that was discovered by archaeologists in 2018.

The crisscross pattern of red lines has been deemed the world's oldest known artwork because it is considered a symbol meant to convey information. The use of symbols denotes a "major advance" in human development, according to archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen in Norway.

"What they could do with symbols is, for the first time, store information outside of the human brain," Henshilwood said.

The drawing, which is about 30,000 years older than the artwork previously deemed the oldest, was discovered by Luca Pollarolo, an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Pollarolo said the local inhabitants most likely used seashells to carry the ocher, seal fat, and charcoal mixture into the cave, then applied it to the wall with a stick. He and his team recreated the artwork and determined that it was at one point part of a larger picture.

Cave art history lessons:

  • In 2016, art historians determined that the 36,000-year-old paintings in France's Chauvet Cave depicted a volcanic eruption.

  • Wall paintings inside Spain's Altamira Cave were created over the course of approximately 20,000 years.

  • Europe contains at least 400 sites where ancient cave paintings have been discovered thanks to modern technology.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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