If you’ve been following archaeological news, you’ll know that a discovery in Blombos Cave in the Western Cape has made international news.

The cave has been a source of fascination for researchers since the early 1990s, yielding ancient artefacts including engraved ochre, engraved bone and marine shell beads that have shed light on early human behaviour.

In a discovery published in the science journal, Nature, earlier this month, researchers have reported finding “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”.

The finding is significant.

“The discovery demonstrates that drawing was part of the behavioural repertoire of populations of early Homo sapiens in Southern Africa at about 73 ka,” the paper notes. Ka represents “kiloanni”, or one thousand years.

Speaking to History.com, lead author Professor Christopher Henshilwood says the drawing adds another dimension to previous findings from the cave.

“These signs were most likely symbolic, which helps round out the argument that these Homo sapiens were behaviourally modern. They behaved essentially like us before 70 ka (kiloanni, or one thousand years) [ago], and before they left Africa for Eurasia.”

There is some debate about whether this discovery supports the interpretation that modern behaviour first emerged on the African continent, as this piece about the discovery notes in National Geographic.

But if it is in fact the earliest example of this kind of behaviour, it lends credence to Blombos Cave being included on the new Archaeological and Palaeontological Heritage Tourism Route in the Western Cape. The route, which has been dubbed the “Cradle of Human Culture”, includes the Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point Site Complex.

Out of interest, researchers have noted that the drawing vaguely resembles a hashtag, suggesting that such symbols have been with us longer than we imagined.

This concept of the origins of symbolism will be the subject of an exciting new exhibition at Maropeng that takes a closer look at the work being done to unearth archaeological treasures in Blombos and Diepkloof.

Watch this space for details!