Over thousands and thousands of years of technological development, one human tool has stayed loyal and remained almost totally unchanged: the humble crayon.
In a rare discovery, researchers have recently found a couple examples of these crayon-like tools from 10,000 years ago. Measuring just 22 millimeters long and 7 millimeters wide, the crayons are made out of ochre, a natural clay earth pigment used throughout human history across the globe. It's very similar to the stuff used to color the artworks of ancient Egypt tombs, the frescos of Roman villas, and some of the earliest cave paintings. It’s believed these particular crayons from the UK were used to color animal skins or for artwork. Interestingly, you can see still the sharpened pointed tip, just like a modern-day crayon.
A team of researchers led by the University of York discovered the Mesolithic drawing tools at Star Carr in North Yorkshire, UK. Once the site of an ancient lake, this archaeological site is a treasure trove of Mesolithic artifacts, including tools, red deer headdresses used for rituals, and a pendant which is the oldest known Mesolithic art in Britain. The waterlogged peat ground here has allowed the organic materials to remain remarkably well-preserved for their age.
Their research was recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
The Mesolithic period, sometimes called the Middle Stone Age, is an archaeological term used to describe cultures found between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic Periods. In general, it's used to classify cultures that had started to refine their stone tools and developed diverse adaptations to local environments. As this discovery shows, the Mesolithic world might be have been even more interesting and colorful than we previously assumed.
"One of the latest objects we have found looks exactly like a crayon; the tip is faceted and has gone from a rounded end to a really sharpened end, suggesting it has been used,” Dr Andy Needham from the University of York's Department of Archaeology, said in a statement. ”Colour was a very significant part of hunter-gatherer life and ochre gives you a very vibrant red color. It is very important in the Mesolithic period and seems to be used in a number of ways."
"For me it is a very significant object and helps us build a bigger picture of what life was like in the area; it suggests it would have been a very colorful place."