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Amateur Archaeologist Discovers Ice Age 'Writing' System | Archeology

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An early writing system used by Ice Age hunter-gatherers appears to have been discovered by an amateur archaeologist, who concluded that the 20,000-year markings were a form of lunar calendar.

Research suggests that cave drawings were not only a form of artistic expression, but were also used to record sophisticated information about the timing of animals’ reproductive cycles.

Ben Bacon spent countless hours trying to decode the “protowriting” system, which is believed to predate other equivalent record-keeping systems by at least 10,000 years.

He approached a team of academics with his theory and they encouraged him to pursue it despite being “effectively a street person,” he said.

Bacon collaborated with a team including two professors from Durham University and one from University College London to publish a paper in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

Professor Paul Pettitt, an archaeologist at the University of Durham, said he was “glad I took it seriously” when Bacon contacted him. “The results show that ice age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systemic calendar and marks to record information about key ecological events within that calendar,” he said.

Cave paintings of species such as reindeer, fish and extinct cattle called aurochs and bison have been found across Europe. Along with these images, sequences of dots and other marks were found in over 600 ice age images on cave walls and portable objects across Europe. Archaeologists have long believed that these marks have meaning, but no one has deciphered them.

Bacon decided to decode them, accessing previous research and rock art images at the British Library and looking for recurring patterns, saying it was “surreal” to find out what people were saying 20,000 years ago.

Using the birth cycles of equivalent animals today as a reference point, the team deduced that the number of marks associated with ice age animals was a record, by lunar month, of when they were mating. They believe that the inclusion of a “Y” sign, formed by adding one diverging line to another, meant “giving birth”.

Pettitt said: “We are able to show that these people – who left a legacy of spectacular art in the caves at Lascaux and Altamira – also left a record of early timekeeping that would eventually become common among our species.”

Since marks are thought to record information numerically, rather than recording speech, they are not considered “writing” in the sense of the pictographic and cuneiform systems that emerged in Sumer from 3400 BC, but are classified as a system of protowriting. . .

Bacon said the work made those responsible for the designs feel “suddenly much closer”. “As we delve deeper into their world, what we find is that these ancient ancestors are much more like us than we previously thought,” he said.

The findings encouraged the team to conduct further research into the meaning of other marks found on cave drawings.

“What we hope, and the initial work is promising, is that unlocking more parts of the protowriting system will allow us to understand what information our ancestors valued,” said Bacon.