An abstract drawing from the 73,000-year-old levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa
Abstract and depictive representations produced by drawing—known from Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia after 40,000 years ago—are a prime indicator of modern cognition and behaviour1. Here we report a cross-hatched pattern drawn with an ochre crayon on a ground silcrete flake recovered from approximately 73,000-year-old Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Our microscopic and chemical analyses of the pattern confirm that red ochre pigment was intentionally applied to the flake with an ochre crayon. The object comes from a level associated with stone tools of the Still Bay techno-complex that has previously yielded shell beads, cross-hatched engravings on ochre pieces and a variety of innovative technologies2–5. This notable discovery pre-dates the earliest previously known abstract and figurative drawings by at least 30,000 years. This drawing demonstrates the ability of early Homo sapiens in southern Africa to produce graphic designs on various media using different techniques.