Genevieve von Petzinger: Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe?
Genevieve von Petzinger - Paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher
Genevieve von Petzinger studies the geometric signs found in early European Ice Age rock art sites. Full bio
cliff that draws you in.
between light and dark,
of earthy smells, of hushed silence.
these underground worlds.
engravings and paintings,
and zigzags from Ojo Guareña in Spain.
as these early artists.
of skin boots on soft earth,
around the next bend.
what drove these people to go so deep
passageways to leave their mark?
or about a third of a mile, underground,
of red paintings on a ceiling
section of the cave.
with the ceiling getting ever lower,
where the ceiling was so low
and project photographer, Dylan,
on the ceiling with his DSLR camera.
with a single light
that we kept for that type of occasion.
with a torch or a stone lamp?
I'm trying to answer with my research.
art in the world.
early artists in Europe,
because it's beautiful,
is the development of the modern mind,
of imagination, of abstract thought,
in one way or another,
taken it to another level.
to share and collaborate
network of information exchange
by our ability to communicate --
or written forms of communication.
on the mental achievements
abilities haven't already existed.
I find most fascinating
of any giants to stand on.
of important inventions
is the invention of graphic communication.
main types of communication,
so things like sign language --
by their very nature ephemeral.
for a message to be sent and received.
of transmission, it's gone forever.
decouples that relationship.
it became possible for the first time
transmitted and preserved
and even a few surviving open-air sites.
by towering ice sheets,
and frozen tundra.
have been found across the continent,
and even the occasional human
from Grotta dell'Addaura in Sicily.
of these early artists.
the majority of the study
from Cullalvera in Spain,
from La Pasiega.
what we call geometric signs,
the animal and human images.
of how many shapes there were,
appeared across space or time.
get started on my questions,
from all of the rock art sites.
well documented at some sites,
with the very nice animals,
where it was very vague --
of description or detail.
in half a century or more.
that I targeted for my field work.
each spent over 300 hours underground,
around 52 sites
at 75 percent of the sites we visited.
I knew I was going to need
those larger questions.
there are only 32 geometric signs.
and the entire continent of Europe.
doodles or decorations,
a lot more variation,
are the same signs
before losing popularity and vanishing,
in use during that entire time period --
triangles, ovals and circles
from the end of the Ice Age,
high in the Pyrenees Mountains.
span thousands of kilometers,
restricted distribution patterns,
to a single territory,
with these divided rectangles
of family or clan signs.
of similarity in the earliest rock art
to Indonesia and Australia.
appearing in such far-flung places,
to 40,000-year range,
to a common point of origin in Africa.
is a subject for a future talk.
were meaningful to their creators,
but the people of the time certainly did.
for so long, and at so many sites
were making intentional choices.
of graphic communication in the world.
characters at this point
in the spoken language,
for a full writing system.
repeating regularly enough
some sort of alphabet.
are some intriguing one-offs,
known as "The Inscription,"
of hands in the middle,
like a bracket on the right.
communication in the world --
the earliest Chinese script,
and 5,000 years ago,
from an earlier protosystem
and pictographic representations,
and the image were the same.
have represented that animal.
these pictographs become more stylized,
more symbols being invented
missing words in language --
the geometric signs from Ice Age Europe
were also making counting marks,
from Riparo di Za Minic in Sicily,
be weaponry or housing?
like star constellations?
trees -- landscape features,
surrounded by strange bell-shaped signs
means "feather-shaped" in Latin,
a depiction of a plant or a tree?
to ask these questions
to revisit this category as a whole.
all of the signs into a single category,
will involve breaking it back apart
are identified and separated off.
of fully developed writing
didn't come out of a vacuum.
on something much older,
tens of thousands of years --
of Ice Age Europe and far beyond,
in our collective history,
of making a graphic mark,
of how we communicate.
About the speaker:Genevieve von Petzinger - Paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher
Genevieve von Petzinger studies the geometric signs found in early European Ice Age rock art sites.
Why you should listen
Genevieve von Petzinger is a Canadian paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher finishing up her doctorate at the University of Victoria. She studies some of the oldest art in the world -- Ice Age cave art created by early humans in Europe between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago.
Genevieve's specific focus is on the geometric signs found at many of these sites, and she's interested in how these images can help us to better understand human cognitive evolution as well as track ancient patterns of migration and explore the origins of symbolism and graphic communication. Her research has been featured both nationally and internationally in print, radio and television. In 2013, Genevieve was selected as a TED Senior Fellow.
Genevieve has a book about her latest research and this fascinating period in our human history coming out from Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., in May 2016.
Genevieve von Petzinger | Speaker | TED.com