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.