Our early ancestors probably kept calendars

An independent researcher may have a leading idea archaeological The discovery: It suggests that the oldest writings in human history were hidden right in front of us in prehistoric cave paintings in Europe. According to a new study, this would push the written language timeline back tens of thousands of years.

Hundreds of European caves are decorated with enchanting murals of animals and other forms created by our ancestors between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic era when humans were still living as hunter-gatherers. These cave paintings also often feature non-figurative marks, such as dots and lines, the meaning of which has remained unanswered for decades.

Ben Bacon, a furniture restorer from London describes himself As an “ordinary man in the street”, he noticed these signs because he admired the imagery of European cave paintings and felt that they could be deciphered. Now Bacon has, in his words, “the earliest known writings in history Homo sapiensrevealed, in the form of a prehistoric lunar calendar, he said Investigation that in it Cambridge Archaeological Journal has been published.

“I think cave paintings fascinate us all with their wild beauty and immediacy,” Bacon told Motherboard in an email. “One evening I was quietly looking at Paleolithic paintings on the Internet and then by chance I saw that several animals had things written on them which I interpreted as the numbers you would associate them with.”

Bacon was fascinated by signs and painstakingly put them to decipher; He mainly focused on the lines, dots, and the Y-shaped symbol that appears in hundreds of cave paintings.

Previous researchers have suggested that these symbols could be a form of numerical coding, perhaps designed to indicate the number of animals prehistoric artists saw or killed. Bacon went further and suggested that they form a calendar system designed to track the life cycles of the animals depicted in paintings. He engaged prominent archaeologists from Durham University and University College London to develop the idea and contribute to the new research.

“So our starting point is we’re looking for him Number-based information Around specific preyThe researchers explained in their study. “He feels it unnecessary for us to pass on information about the numbers of individual animals, how often they’ve been seen, or the number of prey killed.”

It seems to us that information relevant to predicting their migration patterns and periods of group formation would be of paramount importance for survival. This will then be when the animals mate and give birth, when they gather in groups somewhere in a predictable way and are relatively vulnerable,” they said.

The researchers note that there are no more than 13 of these lines and dots in the paintings, which could mean that they refer to the two moons (the period between two new moons). The lunar calendar in their heads does not keep time by year, but will be unofficially restarted each year sometime in late winter or early spring, during a period called the “Pony Season”. The “Y” symbol, often drawn directly on or near pictures of animals, could represent childbirth because it resembles two legs spread out.

“We follow the simple statement they made at the beginning Bon season They started counting the months and continued to do so until it became irrelevant in late winter – they simply started counting again at the beginning of the next Bon seasonsaid the team in the study. “The main advantage of this calendar is that it can provide a consistent representation of the life cycles of animals and plants, despite the major geographical and cultural differences in the European Late Paleolithic.

To test the hypothesis, the team compiled a database of more than 600 combinations of lines and dots without the Y symbol, as well as about 250 combinations containing the Y symbol, found mainly in paintings from France and Spain. These sequences extend over tens of thousands of years, and are accompanied by many different images of animals, such as bulls, birds, bison, goats (like goats and sheep), deer, fish, horses, mammoths, and once extinct rhinos. Europe.

After a statistical analysis of the database, Bacon and his colleagues were surprised to find that their lunar calendar fit the patterns well.

“Overall, there is a notable degree of correlation between the number of lines/points in sequences with and without ‘Y’ and position of ‘Y’ and the mating and delivery behavior of our analytical taxa,” the researchers said in the study. “Our data can’t explain everything, but even accounting for regional inaccuracies and variation, there is a great deal of support for our hypothesis.”

They added: “Our data show that the animal association system with calendar information was intended to capture and transmit seasonally specific behavioral information about specific taxa (genres or species) of prey in geographic regions of interest.”

Bacon tells Motherboard it’s “exhausting” putting it all together, and the team is waiting to celebrate until they’ve published all their findings. The researchers also anticipate discussions among experts about the exact definition of “writing” and whether their hypothetical calendar fits properly into this category.

“We do not want to push into the controversial (and in many ways semantic) question of whether writing is a Paleolithic invention; it is perhaps best described as a proto-text, an intermediate step between a simple notation/idiom and a script,” the study authors said. complete.

They continued: “Even assuming that we have convinced our colleagues of our correct identification, there will undoubtedly be a lot of debate about what to call this system and we are completely open to suggestions.” “Currently, our terminology does not go beyond proto-writing in the form of a phenological calendar/meteorological calendar. This implies that some form of writing existed tens of thousands of years before the earliest Sumerian script.”

It would be difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of this discovery, provided it is accepted by the larger archaeological community. It would, well, rewrite the history of writing, one of the most important developments in human history. Moreover, when they depict an early calendar, these tantalizing symbols highlight how these hunter-gatherers synchronized their lives with the natural cycles of animals and the moon.

In short, if the new hypothesis is accurate, it shows that our Paleolithic ancestors “were certainly as cognitively advanced as we are” and “are quite modern humans,” Bacon told Motherboard. It also means “their society made impressive art, used numbers, and had a writing system” and “by reading more of their writing we might be able to better understand what they believed in and what their cultural values ​​were,” he concludes.

This article originally appeared Motherboard.

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