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An ochre crayon thought to have been used to draw on animal skins 10,000 years ago.

10,000-Year-Old Crayon Found in Ancient Lake Was Used to Decorate Animal Skins

Archaeologists have reportedly discovered a prehistoric, ochre crayon believed to have been used to draw on animal skins 10,000 years ago. The crayon was discovered near the site of an ancient lake in North Yorkshire, England.

Earliest Example of Crayon Discovered?

The area where the crayon was found is near one of the most famous Mesolithic sites in Europe, Star Carr. As the experts suggest, this could be a very important and historic discovery, as it may be the earliest example of a crayon ever found. The crayon is made of a red mineral pigment called ochre and was unearthed near an ancient lake now covered in peat, near Scarborough, North Yorkshire as BBC News reported .

Archaeologists speculate that the crayon could have possibly been used by humans nearly 10,000 years ago for applying color to their animal skins or for artwork.

The Mesolithic Settlement Site Known as “Star Carr”

Star Carr is a Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) archaeological site, dating to around 9000 BC, just centuries after the end of the last Ice Age. It has become world famous in the archaeological world due to the preservation of artifacts found buried deep in the peat. These incredibly rare finds include headdresses made from red deer skulls, thought to be used by shamans in ritual practices, barbed points (harpoons) used in hunting and fishing, the "oldest house in Britain", and the earliest evidence of carpentry that we have in Europe.

The ancient archaeological site of Star Carr in Yorkshire, England.

The ancient archaeological site of Star Carr in Yorkshire, England. Credit: The Carrs Wetland Project

The man who discovered the site of Star Carr was John Moore, a local amateur archaeologist who found 10 sites in the area from 1947. He carried out a small excavation at Star Carr in 1948 and found some flint, bone and antler. Contact was made with Grahame Clark, lecturer of Prehistory at the University of Cambridge who was looking to excavate a Mesolithic site which preserved organic materials such as bone, antler and wood. From 1949-1951 Clark excavated Star Carr and published his findings in 1954.

Clark uncovered an amazing array of finds, including an engraved shale pendant which is considered the oldest Mesolithic art in Britain. On what would have been the lakeshore was a platform that appeared to have been made by people. On top and within this platform the excavators found a range of animal remains: red deer, roe deer, wild boar, elk, auroch (wild cow), birds, beaver, pine marten, hedgehog, hare and badger. Finds of wolf were also made, later thought to be domesticated dog. There were a lot of flint artefacts and waste including scrapers, probably used for cleaning hides of animals, axes for woodworking and ‘microliths’ which were used as the tips of arrows.

Cooperation between the departments of Archaeology and Physics, brought archaeologists from the University of York to the site again, where they discovered the crayon, along with other items as BBC News reports . The ochre – a pigment made from clay and sand – crayon has a striped surface and a sharpened point that is considered to have been shaped and scraped in order to produce a red pigment powder.

Red ochre pigment

Red ochre pigment ( Nuno Barreto / flickr )

Dr. Andy Needham, lead author of the study, noted that the latest finds will help researchers to understand Mesolithic life better. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for colouring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork. Colour was a very significant part of hunter-gatherer life and ochre gives you a very vibrant red colour," he said via BBC News .“ And added, "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."

Top image: An ochre crayon thought to have been used to draw on animal skins 10,000 years ago. Credit: Paul Shields / University of York.

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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