An ancient human artifact discovered near Lake Flixton in Great Britain could be the world’s oldest crayon, according to recent research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The 10,000-year-old relic is made from ocher, a natural clay-earth pigment used by hunter-gatherers for tens of thousands of years. The substance had a wide range of properties, from insect repellent to sunscreen, and also has antibacterial qualities that prevent collagen from breaking down.
The crayon measures 22 millimeters long and 7 millimeters wide. It has a sharpened end in the same vein as modern pencils or crayons, which suggests it could have been a drawing or coloring tool. “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,” said lead author Andy Needham, a researcher from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, in a statement.
In addition to the crayon, the team found a pebble-like artifact — also created from ocher — across the lake. Unlike the crayon, it has a heavily striated surface that may have been scraped to produce a pigment powder.
While researchers believe the two objects had distinctly different uses, their markings and shapes suggest they were both used in art. They believe human ancestors used the crayon to give their animal skins or artwork a reddish color, but it could have helped create decorative pieces as well. These findings are important because they help shed light on how our ancestors from the region operated and give insight into the Mesolithic period.