(ORDO NEWS) — 40,000-year-old symbols found in caves around the world may be the earliest written language.
We can take it for granted that the earliest writing systems appeared among the Sumerians around 3400 BC. Archaeological evidence so far supports this theory.
But it is also possible that the earliest writing systems predated the 5,000-year-old cuneiform tablets by several thousand years.
What’s more, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger believes that these prehistoric forms of writing were composed of universal symbols, almost as universal as emoji.
A study of the symbols carved into the walls of caves around the world – including penniforms (feather forms), claviforms (key forms) and hand stencils – may eventually lead us to “abandon the popular storytelling” – history as complete darkness until the Sumerians turn off switch”.
Although these symbols may never be truly deciphered, and their purposes are hidden by millennia of time separation, they clearly show that people “did not turn off the light many millennia earlier”
. 40,000 years ago, humans also developed a sign system that miraculously matches across continents.
Von Petzinger spent years cataloging these symbols in Europe, visiting 52 caves in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
The symbols she found ranged from dots, lines, triangles, squares and zigzags to more complex shapes such as ladder shapes, hand stencils, something called a tektiform, which looks like a pillar with a roof, and feather shapes called a penniform.”
She discovered 32 signs found across the continent, carved and painted over a very long period of time. “Over tens of thousands of years, our ancestors seem to have been remarkably consistent in the symbols they used.”
Von Petzinger sees this system as the result of the migration of modern humans to Europe from Africa. “It doesn’t feel like the beginning of a brand new invention,” she writes in her book, The First Signs: Unraveling the Mysteries of the World’s Oldest Symbols.
Genevieve von Petzinger describes this early system of communication by means of abstract signs as the forerunner of the “global information exchange network” in the modern world.
“We have relied on the mental achievements of those who have come before us for so long,” she says, “that it is easy to forget that certain abilities existed long before the formal written records we recognize.”
These symbols traveled: they are found not only in caves, but also engraved on the teeth of a deer, strung on an ancient necklace.
Genevieve von Petzinger believes that “simple forms represent a fundamental shift in the mental faculties of our ancestors” towards the use of abstract symbols for communication.
Her research “suggests that the cognitive mechanisms required for the development of cave and rock art are likely similar to those used to express the symbolic thinking required for language.”
In other words, according to her theory, “cave and rock art is a modality (is a linguistic universal) of linguistic expression.”
And the symbols surrounding this art may represent the development of this form of communication – it is the very first writing system used by early people around the world for tens of thousands of years.
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