First signs

Logarithmic History

16.0 – 15.2 thousand years ago

In July and August, this blog covered one of the great revolutions in information transmission, the evolution of language.  And as we move into September, we will consider another, the invention of writing. But in between these two great revolutions, there are tantalizing hints that people were experimenting with other techniques for enhancing social memory.

Genevieve von Petzinger has made an extensive study of cave paintings from Ice Age Europe, 40,000 to 10,000 years ago; her results are presented in a recent book. The most famous cave paintings are pictures, sometimes of extraordinary qulaity. But von Petzinger has been interested in something else, in the geometric signs that often accompany these paintings, or stand on their own.  These are not random doodles. A limited number of different signs – she lists just thirty two – is found repeatedly. Some signs, like…

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