Cave Art Made By Ice Age Hunters Were To Chart Animal Life Cycles
The significance of Ice Age drawings was decoded and as a result, evidence of early writing that predates prior estimates by 14,000 years
Archaeologists have known for some time that the series of lines, dots, and other markings seen on cave walls and transportable items from the last Ice Age were storing some kind of information, but they have not yet determined what that information was specifically. The new study1 shows that at least 20,000 years ago, Ice Age hunter-gatherers were recording and exchanging complex information about the behavior of these creatures using markings like these lines and dots along with drawings of their animal prey. The researchers was able to determine that the number of markings connected with Ice Age animals were a record, by lunar month, of when they were mating by utilizing the birth cycles of contemporary analogous animals as a point of comparison.
Specifically, a 'Y' sign in the markings, created by joining two diverging lines, was also identified by the team as denoting "giving birth." They found a statistically significant correlation between the number of marks, the location of the 'Y' sign, and the months in which modern animals mate and give birth, proving that these sequences record the mating and birthing seasons.
The marks cannot be referred to as "writing" in the sense of the pictograph and cuneiform, or wedge-shaped, systems of early writing that emerged in Sumer from 3,400 BC on wards because they record information numerically and refer to a calendar instead of recording speech. These marks have been found in over 600 Ice Age images on cave walls and portable objects across Europe. The team instead refers to them as a proto-writing system, which is at least 10,000 years older than other token-based systems supposed to have arisen during the Near Eastern Neolithic.
The study also reveals that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were the first to utilize a systematic calendar and marks to record information about significant ecological events within that calendar, in addition to decoding information that was originally recorded thousands of years before. The team is planning to continue its work and attempt to understand more of the symbols, their cognitive roots, and what information Ice Age hunter-gatherers valued after demonstrating that they can decipher the meaning of at least some of these symbols.
Bacon, B., Khatiri, A., Palmer, J., Freeth, T., Pettitt, P., & Kentridge, R. (2023). An Upper Palaeolithic Proto-writing System and Phenological Calendar. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 1-19. doi:10.1017/S0959774322000415