A COLORFUL PEBBLE WITH LINEAR INCISIONS MAY BE THE WORLD'S OLDEST ENGRAVING
The colorful pebble bearing a sequence of lines dates back 100,000 years and may be the first evidence of abstract art. The object, which will be described in the April issue of the Journal of Archaeology, dates back approximately 100,000 years ago and could also be the world's oldest known abstract art. It was recovered from Klasies River Cave in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.
"Associated human remains indicate that the engraved piece was certainly made by Homo sapiens," co-author Riaan Rifkin of the University of Witwatersrand's Institute for Human Evolution told Discovery News. Rifkin and colleagues Francesco d'Errico and Renata Garcia Moreno performed extensive non-invasive analysis of the object. Methods like X-ray fluorescence and microscopic analysis enabled the researchers to examine every minute detail of the ocher pebble, which appears to have split off from a once larger piece. The scientists conclude that humans intentionally made the sub-parallel linear incisions on the Middle Stone Age pebble.
"Upon engraving the piece with a sharp lithic implement, it is likely to have produced a markedly bright and dark red-maroon powder," Rifkin said. "The design may therefore have been strikingly visible shortly after it was produced." Ocher is a mineral-rich, naturally tinted clay that primarily consists of hydrated iron oxide. Ocher was among the earliest pigments used by humans and possibly other hominids for artistic purposes.
The Klasies River object measures close to 3 inches in length and contains a series of seven "deep broad engraved lines and several, about 16 or so, narrower and somewhat shallower linear features," Rifkin said. "The fragment is a remnant of a formerly semi-circular ocher pebble that likely contained a much more extensive engraved design on its surface."
Of particular interest now is whether or not the engraver made the design with symbolic intent. Use of symbols and meaningful images is thought to have been a significant breakthrough in human development. Language, math and countless other studies are tied to this basic skill, in addition to improved communication. To this day, art permits communication of identity and other things among diverse cultures.