Lecture: Signs in Caves: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an archaeology class. Professor: Michael, could you sum up what we've talked about last time? Michael: Okay. We looked at a lot of cave paintings and said there was a creative explosion about 31,000 years ago. People represented the world around them with paintings. Um, the ones we discussed were in France. They were mostly animals, bulls, horses, deer and so on. Professor: And what are the paintings like? Michael: They're large, colorful and they're really lifelike. Professor: Yes. Exactly. They are so spectacular that they generated a huge amount of study. Well until recently no one paid much attention to these strange markings that accompany many of these cave paintings which are usually off to the side somewhere, like small dots, lines or zigzags. Imagine, being the first archaeologist to get to a dark tunnel and come upon these drawings, would you be studying the charging bill or the the little black dots on the corner? So it wasn't until recently that a researcher named Genevie Vampithinger decided to do a systematic study of these other markings. She compiled the database of all of the markings in caves from 146 sites in France, and what she found was a total of 26 different signs or symbols repeated again and again. It's possible that these signs might indicate something just as significant as cave paintings that accompany them. So let's have a look at a few of the signs cataloged by Vampithinger. There is a big difference between realistic representations, the paintings, and the markings, these nonrepresentational or symbolic markings, markings that are kind of like writing. So you can see why this study would attract a lot of attention. Yes, Rebbeca? Rebbeca: But, when was the first, you know, the first writing? Professor: Well, the first documented instance of writing comes from only 5,000 years ago and as we said before, these cave paintings are from about 31,000 years ago, but I guess the question is just how close these signs are to what we would consider writing. Vampithinger's analysis resulted in a couple of very convincing arguments that what we have here is some kind of symbolic expression, or at least a writing code that was widely understood. You can see a uniformity of style among the signs. Some of them are quite simple, like the lines and dots, but others are more complex. One possibility or one thing that Vampithinger noticed is that in some cases the marks appear to represent a single part of a larger figure like the ovals, the small ovals inside a larger one.They match almost exactly the oval eyes on some of the animals painted on the walls. These features using just a small part of something to represent the whole item are called synecdoche. Synecdoche is a common feature in very early writing systems. The Sumerians, the Sumerians had the earliest documented form of writing. They use just an ox's head to indicate an ox and the use of synecdoche is a good indication that ideas are being communicated symbolically and of course if the signs were being to communicate ideas, then these dots and lines just deserve as much attention as the animal paintings. Okay. Another feature that's common among early writing systems is the combination of two symbols to create a new meaning. Vampithinger noted that many of the signs are consistently pairing with others. For example, there's an image of hand, and a hand appears together with the dots again and again. And when Vampithinger compiled and dated the signs, she found something else. Most of the signs are already present in the oldest cave site. There's no evidence that they developed system over time. You don't see them trying out new signs or discarding old ones. In the oldest caves, a system seems already fully formed. Rebecca? Rebecca: So like the idea that humans brought these signs with them when they first arrived to Africa? Professor: That's a strong possibility, that the first people to migrate to southern Europe from Africa had the signs as an already well-established part of their culture.