Cave doodles may be earliest protowriting

Scientists studying cave doodles — outlines of hands, little patterns of dots, that sort of things — from prehistoric sites have concluded that these signs may have been a kind of protowriting.

“It was a way of communicating information in a concise way,” says Nowell. “For example, the mammoth tusks may have simply represented a mammoth, or a mammoth hunt, or something that has nothing to do with a literal interpretation of mammoths.” Other common forms of synecdoche include two concentric circles or triangles (used as eyes in horse and bison paintings), ibex horns and the hump of a mammoth. The claviform figure – which looks somewhat like a numeral 1 – may even be a stylised form of the female figure, she says.

Obviously, protowriting is one possible meaning.  I’ve often thought that an outline of a hand is an elegant signature.  But not all graphical organizations of information are writing.  Perhaps these signs had magical or spiritual import?  Could sigils predate writing?  Actually, I think they pretty obviously do: but whether these are sigils, protowriting, or — as we used to think — meaningless doodles is still an open question.

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One Response to “Cave doodles may be earliest protowriting”

  1. I read something about this a few days ago. It is possible that the markings are proto-writing, or possibly sigils of magical or spiritual importance. I think, though, that the most important concept that we can take from this is that while the “doodles” in question may be meaningless to us, it does not follow that they were meaningless to the artists who placed them. While I understand the need of scientists for framework and paradigm so that they can sort and comprehend what they are studying, the off hand dismissal of something that has no meaning to the student as having no meaning at all bugs the crap out of me.

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