Written Communication May Be 40,000 Years Old

New Historian, By Irina Slav, May 24

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.

CBC: Did early humans communicate with cave signs?

The Globe and Mail: Cave symbols hint at 30,000-year-old origins of written communication , February 23, 2010

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  • The occurrence of a few symbols at various sites may not be ‘writing’ per se. Maybe symbols of a common religion, spread by migration? Gobekli Tepe has established religion does not require agricultural settlements – nomadic hunter/gatherer built temples.

  • This study is from a year ago; might have some bearing:

    Lower Testosterone May Have Civilized Humanity, Study Says

    According to a new study, humanity might have become civilized after cave men got a little less manly. After measuring more than 1,400 modern and ancient human skulls, researchers have suggested that a 50,000-year-old boom in prehistoric human culture coincided with drop in testosterone and the evolution of a more feminine face shape. The hormonal changes may have also helped curb aggression, leading to kinder, gentler humans and the development of early art and technology.


    The researchers are unsure if the hormonal changes in our prehistoric ancestors were the result of lower levels of circulating testosterone or a reduction in testosterone receptors, but they argue the drop most likely evolved out of the rapid population growth that accompanied the “Great Leap Forward” some 50,000 years ago. Cieri claims that increased competition for resources may have also made early humans act more civil toward one another. “If population density starts increasing, not only are there more people in your immediate environment that you have to get along with, but all land would be occupied with human groups,” he told Time Magazine. “You wouldn’t just go across to the other side of the valley to hunt bison by yourself, you’d go to the other side of the valley and maybe make a treaty with the other people who live there.”

    JStor/Duke University: Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity

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