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The Fifth Type of Palaeoart: Uncovering the Mystery of Ancient Sand Drawings


Humans have always had an innate impulse to draw, and it appears that our ancestors were no different. Recently, archaeologists have discovered ancient sand drawings that date back at least 136,000 years, shedding light on the creative expressions of early humans. These sand drawings, found in the Garden Route National Park in South Africa, offer intriguing clues about our ancient past.

The Discovery

Charles Helm, from the African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience in Gqeberha, stumbled upon a slab of sandstone with a perfect circle and central depression in 2018. This area, known for its traces of early Homo sapiens, also contains some of the oldest rock art and footprints in the world. The discovery of these sand drawings adds another layer of complexity to the story of our ancient ancestors.

The Sand Drawings

In addition to the perfect circle, Helm found other patterns etched into the same sandstone slab, including grooves, cross-hatches, parallel lines, and even a perfect triangle. The depth of the impressions is represented by colored images, ruling out natural causes like wind, water, animals, or vegetation. It is clear that these sand drawings were intentionally made by people, although their exact meaning remains a mystery.

A New Classification

Helm suggests that these sand drawings should be classified as a fifth type of palaeoart, joining cave paintings (pictographs), rock engravings (petroglyphs), images carved on trees (dendroglyphs), and arrangements of rocks or earth (geoglyphs). He proposes the term “ammoglyphs,” derived from the Greek word “ammos” meaning sand, to describe these ancient sand drawings.


The discovery of ancient sand drawings offers a window into the artistic expressions of our ancient ancestors. These intricate patterns etched in the sand provide a glimpse of the creative impulses that drove early humans to leave their mark on the world around them. Although we may never fully understand the meanings behind these sand drawings, they continue to fascinate and inspire us, reminding us of the enduring human desire for artistic expression.


  • Palaeontology
  • Ancient humans
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