Geometric designs engraved on ostrich eggs could represent the earliest form of written communication, researchers have claimed. The patterns made by hunter-gatherers were discovered by scientists working in South Africa and are thought to be 60,000 years old, an era before humans left the continent to populate the rest of the world.
This unique collection demonstrates not merely the engraving of a single geometric pattern but the development or a graphic tradition and the complex use of symbols to mediate social interactions,’ it stated.
‘The standardised production of repetitive patterns, including a hatched band motif, suggests a system of symbolic representation in which collective identities and individual expressions are clearly communicated, suggesting social, cultural and cognitive underpinnings that overlap with those of modern people.’
They show the same symbols are used over and over again, and the team say there are signs that the symbols evolved over 5000 years. This long-term repetition is a hallmark of symbolic communication and a sign of modern human thinking.
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Christopher Henshilwood, another anthropologist working in South Africa, was also impressed. “Based on sheer numbers the evidence for deliberate decoration and symbol use is compelling.” He adds, “Perhaps the greatest challenge still is in explaining why the tradition of engraving appears to… appear, disappear and then reappear at different times and places.”