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Stone Age crayon points to artsy ancestors

Modern Crayola fans are part of a surprising lineage. Archaeologists discover Mesolithic people probably liked to draw with crayons, too.

ocher crayon
This small ocher crayon is rounded on one end and pointed on the other.
Paul Shields/University of York

When you want to draw, you might reach for a box of Crayola crayons and choose from dozens of colors. About 10,000 years ago, ancient Europeans of the Mesolithic period may have reached for an ocher-colored crayon. 

Archaeologists at the University of York discovered what they say may be one of the earliest examples of a crayon near an ancient lake in North Yorkshire in the UK. The crayon is sharpened on one end and measures just under an inch (22 millimeters) in length. 

"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," says archaeologist Andy Needham, lead author of a study on the crayon and an ocher pebble found on the other side of the lake.  

The small pebble, while similar in color to the crayon, has striated marks across its surface, indicating it might have been used to produce a powder for a pigment, rather than as a drawing utensil. 

Needham speculates the crayon may have been used by the hunter-gatherer society to decorate animal skins or in the creation of artwork. It would have left a vibrant red mark. 

The researchers published an analysis of the ocher artifacts in the February issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.