Crosshatch Sign

Prehistoric Hashtag Symbol
Linear crosshatching pattern

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Crosshatch Pattern, Paleolithic Hashtag Symbol

What is a Crosshatch Sign?

In prehistoric art, a "crosshatch" is an abstract pictograph consisting of two or more sets of intersecting parallel or sub-parallel lines. Think hashtag symbol or tic tac toe grid.

According to Stone Age sign-expert Genevieve von Petzinger, the "crosshatch" is one of only 32 abstract signs used in French cave art between 40,000 and 10,000 BC.

How Prevalent are Crosshatch Signs?

Crosshatching patterns are relatively common, being present in twenty-seven paleolithic caves in France - roughly 18 percent of the total.

More common cave signs include: Lines (72%), Open-Angles (42%), Ovals (29%), and Penniforms (25%).

Geographical Distribution

"Crosshatch signs" are centred on two areas: the Lot/Dordogne area (13 sites) and the French Pyrenees (8 sites).

The remaining six sites are well dispersed across France: Burgundy, Seine-et-Marne, Ardèche, Charente, Gard and Aude.

The symbol also occurs on items of mobiliary art from the Middle Paleolithic onward.

Which Caves Contain Crosshatch Signs?

According to Petzinger, who is compiling a master database of abstract signs used during the era of paleolithic art in Europe, "crosshatch symbols" are found in the following paleolithic caves in France.

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History & Dating

Crosshatch patterns and symbols have been in use since the Mousterian Culture during the Middle Paleolithic.

See, for instance, the Klasies River Caves engravings (100,000 BC), the Blombos Cave engravings (71,000 BC) and the Diepkloof eggshell engravings (60,000 BC) in South Africa.

Neanderthals also produced their own hashtag symbols, see, for example, the crosshatching in Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar (37,000 BC).

In France, according to Petzinger, the crosshatch ideomorph first appears at Chauvet Cave (34,500 BC), in the Aurignacian, after which it appears at Pech Merle Cave during the Gravettian and at Lascaux Cave during the Solutrean.

The sign finally takes off during the Magdalenian, with almost one third of caves from this period containing the crosshatch symbol.

Owing to the scant number of "crosshatch motifs" found in French caves during the first 25,000 years of Upper Paleolithic art, Petzinger believes that they might have been developed elsewhere in Europe during this period.

Thus widening the search area to include Cantabria in Northern Spain, might boost its overall prevalence in Franco-Cantabrian cave art.

For more about the chronology of European cave painting, as well as hand stencils and other strange symbols from around the world, see: Timeline of Prehistoric Art (from 540,000 BC).

Related Articles

For details of other prehistoric cave signs, see the following articles:


(1)"Making the Abstract Concrete: The Place of Geometric Signs in French Upper Paleolithic Parietal Art." (2005) (Thesis) Genevieve von Petzinger. University of Victoria, Canada.

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