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Were cave symbols early writing attempts?

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Cuevas de las Manos (hands)/Mariano, 2005

Maybe, 10,000–40,000 years ago. From CBC News:

Deep inside the Oxocelhaya cave in southern France, Canadian anthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger points at a small red marking barely noticeable on a rock wall.

It looks like someone deliberately drew an X using two inverted V’s.

While cave paintings have long been cited as early evidence of human art, anthropologists are now taking a closer look at the significance of strange abstract signs – including spirals, ovals, handprints and intersecting lines – found alongside prehistoric rock art depicting animals.

Von Petzinger, a PhD student at the University of Victoria who has been studying prehistoric signs in European caves for a decade, says they suggest “the first glimmers of graphic communication” among human beings before the written word.

Currently, writing is traced to the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, approximately 3,000 B.C.

Her analysis shows that over a 30,000-year period, cave dwellers used only about 30 different types of signs.

“Obviously, we don’t have anybody we can ask what the signs mean,” she says, “but they were using them in a way that suggests their usage was intentional and that they wished to transmit messages with them.” More.

Elsewhere, this type of reasoning is called a design inference.

The idea should not surprise us. The earliest writing systems were pictographs – drawings of the entity about which one wished to communicate. The Neanderthal seal drawing, for instance, may have been that. Gradually, symbols began to be added in order to specify one’s meaning. That development tracked with more complex societies, of course, where everyone did not know what one meant to say, especially not future generations.

Could we ever decode these symbols? We shouldn’t rule it out. We’d need to find enough of them and know much more about the circumstances under which they were produced.

See, for example, Minoan B. But then there was Minoan A. And numerous other mostly or wholly undeciphered scripts.

But one thing’s for sure. This enquiry is far more like a science of our ancestors’ behaviour than the fatuities of evolutionary psychology that pretend to be such.

See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (the human mind)

and

Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness

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3 Replies to “Were cave symbols early writing attempts?

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    There was a different language for each clan back then probably. Thousands and thousands of extinct languages.

    The North American Indians has a thousand different languages just a few hundred years ago:
    http://www.cogsci.indiana.edu/...../ling.html

    Although no written Indian language to speak of. Or write about:)

  2. 2
    mahuna says:

    “Obviously, we don’t have anybody we can ask what the signs mean”

    Well, OF COURSE we do. Ask the Bushmen and the Aborigines.

    A Spiral is bit of magic used for looking THROUGH the rock to The Other World. And the Aborigines still make handprints today. You chew up some charcoal (for black, other naturally occurring materials for other colors) and SPIT the charcoal at the edges of your hand. Works just fine after a little practice and spit makes a reasonable glue. It took DECADES for these idiots to realize that “missing fingers” were NOT some kind of ritual amputations but simply a finger or 2 folded underneath the hand. Did they even ask a random group of boys in junior high school about what the “missing fingers” meant? Idiots, complete unsalvageable IDIOTS.

    These “anthropologists” sit at their desks and talk to other anthropologists about how confused they are. They never go talk to PEOPLE,and simply ASK what things mean, or how something is done. And they get PAID for their ignorance.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    i think there was no need for pictographs to come before a sound symbol writing as we now have. Its not a big intellectual leap to see our words are just combinations of sounds and so stick a symbol to the sounds and BANG your done.
    I suspect it came from the cities living on the Mediterranean. Possibly Sidon for reasons.

    The bible , possibly, suggests create was settled first by offshoots of Egyptians. so the Minoan script might be figured out if egyptian language was the guide. its not probably a indo european language.

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