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Was ancient 'hashtag' the first human symbol?


Posted on Wednesday, 25 April, 2018 | Comment icon 9 comments

What do these markings mean ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Chris. S. Henshilwood
Hashtag-like etchings found on a rock in South Africa's Blombos Cave are thought to be over 100,000 years old.
In a recent study, an international team of scientists sought to determine whether the etchings were symbolic in nature by asking students to study, sort and then make copies of them.

The idea was to see if they could distinguish them from similar markings found at other sites as well as to determine how easy it was to reproduce them after only a single, brief viewing.

If the markings were symbolic, the researchers hypothesized, then they would be distinct based on the time they were created and the general location at which they were discovered.
Sadly however, the students were unable to distinguish the Blombos markings from other similar markings found at other sites.

"That suggests that we're not looking at a symbolic system in the sense that each marking has an individual meaning," said lead researcher Kristian Tylen.

Instead, it is possible that the markings were decorative in natural or were simply random scribbles that some early human cave-dweller had created to pass the time.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine | Comments (9)

Tags: Blombos

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by freetoroam on 25 April, 2018, 13:57
Hashtag? Jeeze, how did someone make that connection? Its lines, thats it. Be it for decoration or even the first noughts and crosses game, it sure is no hashtag.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Kenemet on 25 April, 2018, 15:51
That's some excellent semiotics done in determining that it was a decoration and not a symbol.  It's nice to see good science behind a dramatic headline.
Comment icon #3 Posted by bison on 25 April, 2018, 19:31
Those etchings were on red ochre stones. There may have been a treble purpose here. 1.) To scrape off powder for use in paints, for which there is other evidence at Blombos cave. 2.) To roughen the stone to facilitate further removal of ochre and 3.) To leave behind an artistic abstract design.    
Comment icon #4 Posted by Skulduggery on 26 April, 2018, 6:45
I was in a grocery store once (I know, right?!!) and someone said something about a hashtag for some reason. A slightly older guy then commented that in his day, they called them pound signs. Then, another random guy standing nearby, probably in his 70s or 80s, commented that in his day, they called them octothorpes. I had to think that one over for a while and get my head straight, so I drove to a hotel and spent the night reevaluating life in the hotel pool.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Jon the frog on 26 April, 2018, 20:34
Yep, red ochre stones mean they can be of use like you said, was the first thing coming in my mind when i read it , and they don't talk about etching on limestone or others...just red ochre stones.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Harte on 26 April, 2018, 23:28
Looks like a map of ice-free Antarctica to me. Harte
Comment icon #7 Posted by jmccr8 on 27 April, 2018, 4:01
Hi Jon they also compared it with etchings on ostrich eggs that were 60-100 kbp so if under examination a repeated pattern can be identified then there is just as much reason to infer that they were deliberate.  jmccr8
Comment icon #8 Posted by Piney on 27 April, 2018, 13:29
The ones found in eastern North America on Koens-Crispin sites have etches in every different direction to make it easier to grind. I never saw one with any specific pattern. Just random grooves......of course Barry Fell would call this "Ogham".  
Comment icon #9 Posted by stereologist on 27 April, 2018, 18:19
I think they were used to teach plotting.


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