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Communications Science

Earliest "Writing" On 60,000-Year-Old Eggshells 214

Posted by kdawson
from the beats-walking-on-them dept.
New Scientist reports on research published in PNAS (abstract here) about what may be the earliest writing yet discovered, on eggshells dated to 60,000 years ago. "Since 1999, Pierre-Jean Texier of the University of Bordeaux, France, and his colleagues have uncovered 270 fragments of shell at the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Western Cape, South Africa. They show the same symbols are used over and over again, and the team say there are signs that the symbols evolved over 5,000 years. This long-term repetition is a hallmark of symbolic communication and a sign of modern human thinking, say the team. [Another researcher is quoted:] 'Judging from what we know about the evolution of art all over the world, there may have been many [written language] traditions that were born, lasted for some time, and then vanished. This may be one of them, most probably not the first and certainly not the last.'"
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Earliest "Writing" On 60,000-Year-Old Eggshells

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  • Very well hidden... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 04, 2010 @11:28AM (#31358236)

    Easter eggs!

  • Re:More images (Score:3, Informative)

    by amplt1337 (707922) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @11:49AM (#31358490) Journal

    the symbols have nothing to do with the pronunciation, they simply express the concept.

    Not quite. There's actually considerable phonetic information encoded in Chinese characters. They've just kept their original shape as the phonetics of the language shifted -- the written language is separately conservative from the spoken one. It's a process which we Anglophones should be familiar with -- but then, *cough*, ploughing through these kinds of rough waters, one is often inclined to keep one's unconsidered beliefs...

    In any event, Chinese characters are typically formed of combinations of smaller characters, which typically still have either semantic or phonetic meaning (or both). They are not arbitrary.

  • High-res photo... (Score:2, Informative)

    by kirill.s (1604911) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @12:04PM (#31358650)
    We need some better pics.
    From home it looks now, my best bet is that it's just an ornament of some sort.

    This [dailymail.co.uk] looks somewhat better than the pics in the summary link. (Or have I not found the good ones?)
  • Re:More images (Score:4, Informative)

    by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @12:14PM (#31358746)

    I think he meant speakers of different languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, ect) within China, not neighboring countries. They use an alphabet, Hangul, in Korea, which is not the Chinese characters, Hanzi. Same way with Japan. Their borrowed Chinese characters many times have different meanings (although they might be able to pick out some meaning here and there), and they also rely on a syllabary, Kana, in their wringing. Chinese has left major linguistic marks on neighboring languages like Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese (which is written with a form of the Latin alphabet, they could no more understand Chinese characters than your average English speaker), but you can't read Chinese on the virtue of knowing them.

  • Re:More images (Score:4, Informative)

    by Adelbert (873575) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @12:34PM (#31359084) Journal

    According to a tentative theory mentioned in Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction [amazon.com], it's possible that the early Ancient Egyptians heard about the technology of "written languages", and then got their top scientists onto replicating the concept, in order to try to correct the economic and military disparity that would result from being illiterate in a literate world.

    I'm not sure how well accepted this hypothesis is, but I find it an intriguing idea. It certainly fits in with the behaviour of nations today, as they scramble to try to replicate nuclear technology, say, or high quality Internet search engines.

  • by sean.peters (568334) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @01:06PM (#31359588) Homepage
    ... and as I recall, the results were that hunter-gatherers were better nourished (both in terms of just calories and the various essential nutrients) than earlier farming populations... on average. The trouble was that excursions from the "average" were a lot bigger for the hunter gatherers.. it was quite literally feast or famine. So although the H-G populations got more nutrition over the course of, say, a year, they were also more likely to starve to death during the lean times. Agriculture was, comparatively, a sure thing, which is why most groups took to it. But the move wasn't without cost - for one thing, you ended up having to work a lot harder to be successful at agriculture, as someone pointed out above.
  • by radtea (464814) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @01:55PM (#31360264)

    Don't get me wrong, I am not saying all this is true,

    Good, because it's all false. Hunter-gatherer societies can in rare cases have more free time for social interaction, but everything we've seen of hunter-gatherer societies in the modern world gives the lie to every other aspect of your speculation.

    Hunter-gatherer societies are in general hierachical, war-like, mysogynstic, and rigidly bound by social mores that would make the Victorians look like libertines.

    Look at pre-contact Polynesian societies, for example: women weren't allowed in canoes, which is more extreme than even modern Saudi Arabia, where women are at least allowed to be passengers in the primary mode of transportation.

    Studies of non-agricultural North American native societies suggest that war-like violence was the primary cause of death amongst young men.

    Existing "stone age" Amazonian peoples have used gang rape as a means of social control in the past century (see the book "Anxious Pleasures" for an interesting ethnography of an Amazonian tribe, focused on sexual mores.)

    And so on. There is a wealth of detailed empirical data putting the lie to the whole "noble savage" "golden age" myth: modern, liberal, democratic, technological, market-oriented societies are the most peaceful, caring, inclusive, egalitarian, ecologically friendly cultures that have ever existed.

    We have problems because we still have people who are heirs to the sociopathic psychology of earlier times, both hunter-gatherer and agricultural, and we are so enormously successful that our very numbers have created problems that other peoples could only dream of.

    But don't kid yourself: this is the golden age, and if you're posting on ./ you're one of the "noble citizens" that future generations will look back on with envy and wonder. Kinda sad, ain't it?

  • by Tyler Durden (136036) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @02:29PM (#31360640)

    Errr... citation needed.

    It was pretty hilarious to go here [wikipedia.org] and read in the first paragraph the exact opposite of what you just said.

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