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Communications Science

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

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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  • The writing says (Score:3, Insightful)

    by click2005 ( 921437 ) * on Thursday March 04, 2010 @11:25AM (#31358200)

    The writing says

    Best Before: Birth of Christ

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday March 04, 2010 @11:27AM (#31358226)
    In 60,000 years we've progressed from scratching symbols on eggshells and shitting in caves to producing electronic television shows like "Jersey Shore" and "The Hills." How far we've come.
  • Re:More images (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @11:35AM (#31358308)
    For the earliest forms of "writing" I suspect there were no "lonely" writers. The earliest forms likely being one step away from pictures, if they simply explain it to the other members of their group then it's pure memorization. Some languages (e.g. Chinese) are still like this, with specific symbols representing a word or concept instead of representing sounds or syllables. The written form of Chinese is mostly the same across the country, while the spoken language differs; the symbols have nothing to do with the pronunciation, they simply express the concept.
  • Vinca (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <> on Thursday March 04, 2010 @11:51AM (#31358502) Homepage
    There are several proto-writings, such as the Vinca script [] which are fascinating, but also hotly debated.
  • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @12:00PM (#31358604)
    I always suspected that the theme of the lost "golden age" present in many creation myths is a faint echo of the change from a pure hunter-gatherer existance, where, given a low population density, food was abundant, to a settled farmer existance with high population density and the resulting resource shortage and long days of hard work. Those myths have a long oral tradition - it would not surprise me if this theme reaches back to the neolithic revolution. Interestingly, the loss of the golden age is often closely coupled with flood myths. This, too, points to a neolithic origin - memories of the floodings accompanying the end of the last ice age.
  • Re:More images (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anss123 ( 985305 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @12:33PM (#31359070)
    Intriguing idea but I suspect it would be somewhat like reading Babelfish translated text. Metaphor, grammar and even context (words that have different meaning depending on context) translates badly.
  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @12:42PM (#31359210) Journal

    Perhaps these symbols were still far from forming a structured script. Still, from the article it seems that they were used for communication, which is the main goal of writing. The reason why this is amazing is clear when you put it into the context of humankind 60.000 years later: we STILL have tribes that have no concept of writing, and in some countries analphabetism is affecting large swaths of the population.

    That reminds me of Civilization, when you "find Writing in scrolls of ancient wisdom". Who knows how much of such "ancient wisdom" was lost and then re-developed only to be lost again, during these past tens of millennia. In fact, a lot of the engineering and science developed during the Apollo program, with the passing of Wernher von Braun and some of his colleagues, can well be considered lost. Sorry for the digression.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @01:05PM (#31359556)

    I always suspected that the theme of the lost "golden age" present in many creation myths is a faint echo of the change from a pure hunter-gatherer existance, where, given a low population density, food was abundant

    Huh? The population density was low because the carrying capacity was low, precisely because food was scarce. The subsequent explosion in the human population (still ongoing for the most part) indicates we have been in an unusual transitory period where food has been plentiful, due to agriculture.

  • by tresho ( 1000127 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @02:17PM (#31360500)
    pre-contact Polynesian societies, for example: women weren't allowed in canoes -- Those barbarians made their women swim to the uninhabited islands while the men got to ride in the canoes.
  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Thursday March 04, 2010 @04:35PM (#31362204) Journal

    Bullshit: Eskimoes, FTW!

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev