These Cave Markings Might Be the Earliest Writing Ever.

 Symbols in 20,000-year-old cave paintings are suggested to be a proto-writing system by new study, but not all experts agree.

Ice Age hunter-gatherers in Europe painted caves with a range of animal carvings, ranging from salmon to cattle, some 20,000 years ago. The animals were occasionally accompanied by a puzzling array of symbols, such as dots, lines, asterisks, and crosses. The significance of these marks has been the subject of lengthy disagreement among researchers.

The Cambridge Archaeological Journal has now released a new study in which researchers suggest that these patterns were an early type of writing that documented animal activity. According to Alison George for New Scientist, if this were true, it would suggest that humans possessed a writing system at least 10,000 years earlier than previously believed.

The authors state that while the symbols could not be regarded as written language, they could be "an interim step between a simpler notation/convention and full-blown writing." Other specialists are hesitant to concur with this finding, though.

Lines, dots, and symbols resembling Ys were the three forms the researchers looked at in the study. They postulated that these markings reflected the months of the year and included information about the behaviours of mating and giving birth of the respective animals.

The first theory was proposed by freelance researcher and London-based furniture restorer Bennett Bacon. He gathered an archive of animal illustrations from books and websites throughout the world. It turned up 606 instances of animal sequences with lines or dots and another 256 instances of animal sequences with a Y-shaped mark.

When Bacon consulted several specialists, they examined the data and came to the conclusion that the markings belonged on a lunar calendar. According to their theory, each dot or line stood for a single month, and the quantity of symbols reflected how many months had passed since the start of each animal's mating season. For instance, horses frequently had three markings, but mammoths had five. There are 13 months in a lunar year, and no sequence featured more than 13 symbols. The location of the Y-shaped mark identifies the animal's birth month, according to the scientists.

In an interview with New Scientist, co-author and archaeologist Paul Pettitt of Durham University in England said, "This is exactly the kind of thing I'd expect Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to record."

However, not all scientists concur with this conclusion.

According to Melanie Chang, a paleoanthropologist at Portland State University who was not involved in the study, "Upper Paleolithic humans had the cognitive capacity to write and to preserve records of time." The researcher's "hypotheses are not adequately supported by their data, and they also do not explore alternate interpretations of the marks they investigated," the critic claims.

Furthermore, just three of "at least 32 different recurrent signals" were studied by the researchers, according to April Nowell, a Paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada who was not involved in the study. The majority of the cave symbols are now left with no clear interpretation.


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