Your mother-in-law could not perceive your obsession with the reproductive cycles of recreation animals, however a brand new research means that historic hunter-gatherers shared your fascination—they usually used what might be the earliest types of writing to capitalize on it.

The research, revealed this month within the Cambridge Archeological Journal, purports to unlock a thriller that has stumped researchers for years. The authors argue that European Homo sapiens from the Higher Paleolithic period (50,000 to 12,000 years in the past) used a form of “proto-writing” to document and predict the mating and birthing cycles of recreation animals.

They used sequences of traces, dots, and “Y” formed characters in a lot the identical approach we use path cameras right now. These written messages recorded when a particular recreation species had given start or gone into warmth, presumably in order that the reader may predict when the identical occasions would happen the subsequent 12 months.

These written messages predate by 1000’s of years what has beforehand been thought-about the earliest types of writing.

“We’ve proposed the existence of a notational system related to an unambiguous animal topic, regarding biologically important occasions knowledgeable by the ethological document, which permits us for the primary time to grasp a Paleolithic notational system in its entirety,” the authors write. “It offers us our first particular studying of European Higher Palaeolithic communication, the primary identified writing within the historical past of Homo sapiens.”

Picture Credit score: Henri Breuli

Strains, Dots, and Y’s

Everybody is aware of that ice-age people carved and painted photos of animals on cave partitions, bones, rocks, and different gadgets. What chances are you’ll not know is that many of those photos are accompanied by a wide selection of markings and symbols. Three of the most typical are sequences of traces or dots together with “Y” formed markings interspersed inside these sequences.

Archeologists have, in fact, speculated as to the that means of those symbols, however till now “their particular that means has remained elusive,” in line with the research.

Ben Bacon, a furnishings conservator in London who described himself to the BBC as “successfully an individual off the road,” had been finding out these traces and symbols and had begun to develop a idea. He puzzled whether or not the “Y” image may point out “giving start” because it depicted one line changing into two.

He introduced his idea to researchers on the College School London and the College of Durham, and collectively they started digging into the information. They amassed a database of photos containing 606 sequences of markings with out “Y” and 256 sequences with “Y,” largely from France and Spain, with some examples from additional east.

Since there have been by no means greater than 13 traces or dots in any picture, they hypothesized that these markings may symbolize lunar months. They caught with Bacon’s unique idea concerning the “Y” image, they usually added two essential hypotheses.

First, they believed sequences of lunar months started with the “bonne saison.” The bonne saison is a French zoological time period for the time on the finish of winter when rivers unfreeze, the snow melts, and the panorama begins to inexperienced. This might have been an necessary time of 12 months for ice-age people, and an apparent level of origin for the lunar calendar.

Subsequent, they guessed that the tip of every sequence of traces and dots and the situation of the Y possible corresponded to one in all 4 potential occasions: spring migration, fall migration, mating, and birthing. Ice-age hunter-gatherers, like modern-day hunters, would have had apparent causes for being desirous about every occasion, and it is smart they might have recorded them.

“That we’re searching for number-based data about particular prey animals is due to this fact our level of departure,” the researchers clarify within the research. “It appears to us pointless to want to convey details about the numbers of particular person animals, the occasions they’ve been sighted, or the variety of profitable kills.”

“It appears much more possible that data pertinent to predicting their migratory actions and durations of aggregation, i.e., mating and birthing when they’re predictably positioned in some quantity and comparatively susceptible, could be of biggest significance for survival,” they add.

"Y" shape
Picture Credit score: Bacon, B

Testing the Speculation

To check their speculation, they in contrast the photographs with what we all know concerning the mating, migration, and birthing patterns of the species depicted within the drawings. They settled on 9 animal classes: aurochs, birds, bison, caprids, cervids, fish, horses, mammoths, and rhinos.

They discovered that whereas some animal classes didn’t comport with their speculation, “there’s a exceptional diploma of correlation between the numbers of traces/dots in sequences with and with out ‘Y’ and the place of ‘Y’ and the mating and birthing behaviors of our analytical taxa.”

The traces, dots, and Y’s don’t appear to correspond to migration patterns, however they do strongly correspond to mating and birthing durations.

“The primary key message is that the start durations are considerably effectively predicted by the place of ‘Y,’” they write. “Our second key discovering is that mating durations are considerably effectively predicted by size of sequences of dots or traces not containing a ‘Y.’”

In different phrases, if a sequence of traces and dots accommodates “Y,” the location of the “Y” inside that sequence possible predicts the time of 12 months that species could be giving start. If the sequence doesn’t comprise “Y,” the variety of traces or dots corresponds to the month throughout which the rut would happen.

fish cave art
Picture Credit score: Berenguer, M


A research of this significance will invariably be topic to critique, and a few researchers are already pushing again in well-liked science periodicals. A number of archeologists who spoke to Reside Science famous that the authors don’t sufficiently handle different interpretations–each of the traces, dots, and “Ys,” and of different symbols that additionally seem in these drawings.

Dr. Tim Maloney, an archeologist and analysis fellow at Griffith College in Australia, informed MeatEater that whereas the research is “thrilling” and the speculation is “compelling,” he would have favored to see some particulars clarified.

“There’s numerous interpretation right here from historic pigment traces; little question a few of it’s solely correct,” he mentioned in an e mail. “Nonetheless, the various symbols and motifs on this research, and most historic rock artwork websites, are solely partially preserved, that means some animal identifications are fairly an inferential stretch–they solely generally have unambiguous pigments traces of antlers, trunks, horns or fins clearly preserved.”

By finding out Australia’s Indigenous communities, researchers have discovered that what could appear to be an apparent image could have had a completely totally different that means to the one who drew it.

“For example, in some nations of Indigenous Australia, many painted ‘boomerangs’ had been revealed by conventional homeowners to symbolize billabongs or river bends,” Maloney mentioned. “From the Bacon, et al., research, may an higher paleolithic horse, in truth, be a pregnant fallow doe with nostrils flared and ears up? I at all times discover deciphering motifs tough.”

Maloney is a hunter himself, so he additionally puzzled how helpful a lunar calendar would have been to ice-age people. A chilly snap could be sufficient to kickstart the rut two weeks earlier, he identified. “I discover their predictions of differences due to the season in several species mating (primarily based on trendy examples) an unrealistic expectation to have been confronted by individuals looking wild higher paleolithic herds,” he mentioned.

Bacon didn’t reply to a MeatEater request for remark, however he did inform Reside Science that extra research are within the works.

“We’re analyzing different indicators,” Bacon mentioned. “Reasonably than trying to find the that means of particular person indicators, what we’re searching for is the linguistic and cognitive bases that underpin the ‘writing’ system.”

Whether or not hunters really developed a number of the first written languages is a subject for additional analysis. Nonetheless, this research does counsel that nevertheless a lot people developed between 2023 and 20,000 B.C., some issues by no means change. We could use compound bows, firearms, and magnified optics, however the rut remains to be the perfect time to take residence some venison.

cave drawings
Picture Credit score: Wellcome Assortment. Attribution 4.0 Worldwide

Characteristic picture by way of JoJan; Wikimedia Commons

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