Scientists say the discovery shows that modern ways of thinking developed far earlier than we think.
The abstract art was found on two pieces of ochre in a cave on the southern Cape shore of the Indian Ocean.
Ochre, a form of iron ore, is frequently found in Stone Age deposits less than 100,000 years old.
It may have been used as a body or decorative paint.
“A round [stone] covered the opening of one of the shells, and underneath it was absolutely bright red,” said study leader Christopher Henshilwood, an archaeologist at the University of Bergen in Norway and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
In addition to the shells, the team also found grindstones, hammerstones, the remains of a small fire pit, and animal bones that were used to transfer small amounts of the paint.
The discovery is also proof that early humans were capable of long-term planning and had at least a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry, according to the study authors.
“The engraving itself is quite a complex geometric pattern.An essential piece of information in this research is the age of the fossils and artifacts. Here are more details on a few of the methods used to date objects discussed in “The Great Human Migration” ( In a cave in Oregon, archaeologists found bones, plant remains and coprolites—fossilized feces.DNA remaining in the coprolites indicated their human origin but not their age.They do this at a constant rate called an isotope’s “half-life”.Most carbon comes in the stable forms of carbon-12 (six protons, six neutrons) or carbon-13, but a very small amount (about 0.0000000001%) exists as the radioactive carbon-14 (six protons, eight neutrons).The powder was found inside two shells in Blombos Cave near Still Bay, South Africa.The substance is the dried remains of a primitive form of paint made by combining colorful clay called ochre, crushed seal bones, charcoal, quartzite chips, and a liquid, such as water.But he adds: “I’d be more comfortable if there were more of these engraved stones; if these alleged symbols were found many times in different places.It is possible they were just doodlings that really didn’t mean anything.” Archaeological finds worldwide have helped researchers to fill out the story of human evolution and migration.The final product would have been a bright-red paint—due to to the iron oxide in the particular ochre used—was and would have been not too thick or too watery.There is even evidence that the early artists purposely adjusted the color of their pigments.