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.
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)
Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness
Follow UD News at Twitter!