The oldest known abstract drawing has been found in South Africa’s Blombos Cave – on the face of a flake of siliceous rock retrieved from archaeological strata dated to 73,000 years before the present. The work is at least 30,000 years older than the earliest previously known abstract and figurative drawings.
A major methodological challenge was to prove these lines were deliberately drawn by humans. It was primarily tackled by the team’s French members, experts in these matters and specialized in the chemical analysis of pigments. First they reproduced the same lines using various techniques: They tried fragments of ocher with a point or an edge and also applied different aqueous dilutions of ocher powder using brushes. Using techniques of microscopic, chemical, and tribological** analysis, they then compared their drawings to the ancient original. Their findings confirm the lines were intentionally drawn with a pointed ocher implement on a surface first smoothed by rubbing. The pattern thus constitutes the earliest known drawing, preceding the oldest previously discovered works by at least 30,000 years.