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Discovery: Written Communication Around 37,000 Years Longer Than We Thought

Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Archaeology, Science with 0 Comments

Source: New Historian

Cave-painting-of-animals-compressed

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Daniel Miechhen

It’s common knowledge that the first systematic use of written symbols as a means of communication emerged in Sumer around 3,000 BCE, but now a Canadian researcher is suggesting that as far back as 40,000 years ago our ancestors communicated in writing. Genevieve von Petzinger, an anthropologist from the University of Victoria, studied hundreds of markings from 300 sites in addition to personally visiting and examining 52 caves where ancient humans had lived located in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France. She then collected these markings in a database and looked for repeated use of the same symbol as well as for patterns of use for the different symbols.

What she discovered was surprising: there were just 30 symbols that were used repeatedly at these hundreds of sites, and this took place over a period as long as 30,000 years. These repeated uses, however, were not evident in all the caves throughout this period. Commenting on the find, another anthropologist, April Nowell, who teaches at the University of Victoria, told CBC that each of the symbols classified by von Petzinger seems to have gone through its very own “heyday” in one of the regions studied before its use declined. What’s more, Nowell noted, the symbols first started being used in one area, for instance in Spain, and then spread to another, such as France.


For von Petzinger there is no question that the symbols she studied had been used intentionally, but what surprised her even more than this intentionality was the fact that 65% of them were already in regular use 40,000 years ago. The reason this is so significant is that this was approximately the time when modern humans came to Europe and started displacing the Neanderthals. If humans were already using a large number of symbols for communication at that time, the origins of written communications may have been even earlier.

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