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

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the beats-walking-on-them dept.

Communications 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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FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358196)

Odds the first writing said "Frosty Piss"?

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358220)

"Ooga Booga Farms"

Re:FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358426)

It said "we chuck spears, yo".

Re:FP (2, Funny)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358520)

Is misread this into something along the lines of, "Beware of Chuck Norris"

Re:FP (4, Funny)

krou (1027572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358562)

I wouldn't be surprised if they were warning each other of Chuck Norris 60,000 years ago.

Re:FP (5, Funny)

lastgoodnickname (1438821) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358988)

why do you think there's only "fragments" left? Chuck Norris was there .

Re:FP (2, Funny)

play_in_traffic (946193) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358860)

Hello World

The inscription (2, Funny)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358198)

Mmmmmmmm.... bacon

Re:The inscription (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358310)

Wrong wrong wrong, it's the prehistoric form of 'best before' date written in an ancient numeral system (similiar to roman numerals).

Re:The inscription (1)

lastgoodnickname (1438821) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359004)

they had ramen noodles back then?

Re:The inscription (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31359184)

no no no no... it says "First Post!"

The writing says (2, Insightful)

click2005 (921437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358200)

The writing says

Best Before: Birth of Christ

Re:The writing says (4, Funny)

click2005 (921437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358284)

Or "I came first" signed by a chicken

Re:The writing says (5, Funny)

lastgoodnickname (1438821) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359028)

The rooster came first. Then left, not realizing what he had started. Said he'd call, but never did...prehistoric bastard!

Re:The writing says (0, Redundant)

ryantmer (1748734) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359096)

Or "I came first" signed by a chicken

I feel like I can sympathize with this chicken... I too have that problem.

Re:The writing says (1)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359540)

Or "First Post"

Damn you!!

Re:The writing says (1)

dogsbreath (730413) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359434)

Actually, this is an ancient symbol for "Organic Free Range Omega".

The first marketing campaign.

The amazing human journey (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:The amazing human journey (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358348)

Well, people back then had 10% bigger brains than we do now. They lacked convenience such as tame animals and modern grain so they had less time to sit around pondering - thus maybe they needed to be smarter than we are now.

Then as life got easier (with plant and animals changing to accommodate us) we lost some intelligence in favor of easier births.

We'll never know but it's possible isn't it?

Re:The amazing human journey (3, Interesting)

lordmetroid (708723) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358510)

Actually, all research points that they had a lot more spare time, meats of various kinds is a very energy dense food item, grain production requires a whole lot of work for piss porr nutritional values in comparision.

Re:The amazing human journey (0)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358568)

Actually, all research points that they had a lot more spare time, meats of various kinds is a very energy dense food item, grain production requires a whole lot of work for piss porr nutritional values in comparision.

Doubt that. Hunting take much time and energy and is an all year round activity - you can't store it unless you have salt - while grain harvesting take ~3 weeks and can be stored indefinitely as long as you keep it dry.

Re:The amazing human journey (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358634)

Grain storage would have been a problem mice would be able to get into the storage and shit all over the place thus making 3 weeks of harvesting a waste of time.

Re:The amazing human journey (0)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358810)

They were able to build sufficiently mouse proof storage even back then - they weren't entirely stupid you see ;)

Making a hut out of mud and grass that won't fall apart at the first sign of rain is impressive actually. Probably needed frequent repair though.

Re:The amazing human journey (3, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:The amazing human journey (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:The amazing human journey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358676)

Well, people back then had 10% bigger brains than we do now. They lacked convenience such as tame animals and modern grain so they had less time to sit around pondering - thus maybe they needed to be smarter than we are now.

Citation needed, the earliest anatomically modern human [wikipedia.org] was dated to almost 200,000 years ago, that's almost 140,000 years before the find in TFA. Also part of the definition of "anatomically modern" is that it conforms to the range of variation of the skulls in the living population. Futhermore one of the characteristic features of an AMH skull is a large forehead with more space for an enlarged brain.

Re:The amazing human journey (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359180)

Here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/cromagnon.html [talkorigins.org]

Cro-magnon: 1600cc (Ice age humans, ca 30 000 years ago)
Us: 1400cc

So our ancestors had 12.5% larger brains.

Re:The amazing human journey (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359280)

So our ancestors had 12.5% larger brains.

Meant: May have had 12.5% larger brains, brain size probably vary a lot :)

Re:The amazing human journey (5, Funny)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358472)

I still shit in a cave, you insensitive clod!

Re:The amazing human journey (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31359032)

The best part of the Slashdot comments is seeing how many people think they have something worthwhile and witty to say.

Oh please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31359348)

that's nonsense. Progress is real.

Take computing: when I started in the digital world (PDPs) it took hours to do anything useful on a computer. Now it takes hours to do anything useful but we have a lot more pixels.

Very well hidden... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358236)

Easter eggs!

More images (3, Interesting)

Concern (819622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358250)

I wish in articles like these they presented more of the source images, and in higher resolution. The small sample they provide is beautiful, but to the layman appears as a kind of meandering, simple decoration. Of course the claims are limited: communication via graphic art is distinct from communication via modern written languages.

It's interesting to imagine the first lonely human writers at the dawn of written language - how many wrote things only they themselves could understand, before coincidence formed the first community of proto-literate people? How much of this early writing was just the smooth flow of art - abstract or representational - into more concrete meanings relevant to the every day lives even of the illterate?

Re:More images (4, Insightful)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:More images (2, Interesting)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358468)

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.

Does this means that people that can't talk to each other can write instead? Convenient then, no need to learn multiple languages.

Re:More images (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358526)

Does this means that people that can't talk to each other can write instead?

Yes. A Korean might be able to read a chinese newspaper without knowing a single word in any Chinese language.

Re:More images (3, Informative)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358746)

I think he meant speakers of different languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, ect) within China, not neighboring countries. They use an alphabet, Hangul, in Korea, which is not the Chinese characters, Hanzi. Same way with Japan. Their borrowed Chinese characters many times have different meanings (although they might be able to pick out some meaning here and there), and they also rely on a syllabary, Kana, in their wringing. Chinese has left major linguistic marks on neighboring languages like Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese (which is written with a form of the Latin alphabet, they could no more understand Chinese characters than your average English speaker), but you can't read Chinese on the virtue of knowing them.

Re:More images (1)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358958)

I imagined Chinese as a sort of "universal" writing language where anyone that wrote using Chinese's characters would be able to make themselves understood regardless of them writing French, German, etc.

Grammar would be a problem though.

Re:More images (1)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359452)

The Korean usage of the Chinese characters definitely carries the same meaning as the Chinese usage of the same characters. As I understand, so does the Japanese usage of the characters, though I've never studied Japanese formally to be certain about that.

Re:More images (1)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359418)

Very unlikely that any Korean will be able to read and fully comprehend any Chinese paper based solely on the use of Chinese characters in the Korean language. That said, it's certainly possible to learn to read without ever learning the sounds of the characters.

Re:More images (2, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358570)

Does this means that people that can't talk to each other can write instead? Convenient then, no need to learn multiple languages.

Yes, that is true. Mandarin and cantonese writings will be comprehensible to each other, but not the spoken language. It is not something that is very unusual. China formed into a large empire 2500 years ago and established an enduring bureaucracy. The Mandarins (palace officials) collected data from the vast empire and established common writing systems. But local languages adopted the symbol-meaning map but kept their own pronunciation. Eventually minor dialects died out leaving behind just two large spoken language systems.

Re:More images (4, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358594)

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.

Does this means that people that can't talk to each other can write instead? Convenient then, no need to learn multiple languages.

Yes - actually, funny anecdotal story about things like that. A friend of mine went and travelled the world and he said one of the most interesting quirks about China is that everyone knows the symbols, but not the words.

So - when you are in lets say Germany, and you are looking for a Coffee shop, and you ask the person next to you - and they speak German not English, but you don't know the German word for Coffee. You might use words like Café, and so on and so forth, speaking to the person using different words to get your meaning across.

In China, whenever someone comes across a word they don't know (and it happens quite frequently) - they hold out their hand, and use the index finger of their opposite hand to draw out the symbol of the word you are looking for. This works so well because their symbols mean the words instead of the sounds.

Re:More images (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358664)

In university, I was part of the Chinese Cultural Club. At every meeting there was a chalkboard where anything said in Chinese was written down for the benefit of those who didn't speak that particular dialect.

Re:More images (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358924)

Yes; in Larry Gonick's excellent "Cartoon History of the Universe" I recall a bit where the Chinese scholar is trying to persuade the European to adopt Chinese script for their language. It's an interesting idea, everyone could keep speaking their native language but all written communication would be understood by everyone.

Re:More images (2, Insightful)

anss123 (985305) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:More images (2, Informative)

amplt1337 (707922) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358490)

the symbols have nothing to do with the pronunciation, they simply express the concept.

Not quite. There's actually considerable phonetic information encoded in Chinese characters. They've just kept their original shape as the phonetics of the language shifted -- the written language is separately conservative from the spoken one. It's a process which we Anglophones should be familiar with -- but then, *cough*, ploughing through these kinds of rough waters, one is often inclined to keep one's unconsidered beliefs...

In any event, Chinese characters are typically formed of combinations of smaller characters, which typically still have either semantic or phonetic meaning (or both). They are not arbitrary.

Re:More images (1)

Concern (819622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358680)

Yes, that's the question I was getting at. You could be exactly right. Although I could just as easily imagine a solitary memory aid to a gifted individual growing in lonely complexity. Perhaps again and again - before the aggregation of people brought such folks into contact with each other, and their ideas began to intermingle. Then again, the need for this kind of memory aid is supposed to be associated with the growth of agriculture and the consequent increase in the complexity of human society. Perhaps more sophisticated writing and more sophisticated writers meeting each other followed quickly.

The more canonical record postulated by professional archaeologists has us going from clay tokens to tokens with markings - to markings - made on the clay tokens - now tablets. But of course, we can only infer from what evidence survives. It seems unreasonable to imagine we have a very meaningful part of the physical evidence.

Re:More images (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358440)

It's interesting to imagine the first lonely human writers at the dawn of written language - how many wrote things only they themselves could understand, before coincidence formed the first community of proto-literate people? How much of this early writing was just the smooth flow of art - abstract or representational - into more concrete meanings relevant to the every day lives even of the illterate?

Are you really asking about the ratio of
a) Written languages invented fully formed, spread when several individuals who had invented a written language met by accident
and b) Written languages evolved from simple symbols?

I'd say the ratio is about the same as animals created from scratch vs. evolved from simpler ones.

Re:More images (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358752)

I'd say the ratio is about the same as animals created from scratch vs. evolved from simpler ones.

Yeah ok, you won't be so smug once I unleash this fearsome new animal I've been creating from scratch.

Re:More images (1)

Concern (819622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358784)

No. I'm ruminating about what it was like for an intelligent person's fiddling with ink or clay carving to take on some of the characteristics of writing. How it happened, how it looked, whether it was a solitary development, and if so, how often it happened?

Re:More images (5, Funny)

daremonai (859175) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358504)

I wish in articles like these they presented more of the source images, and in higher resolution.

Unfortunately, they can't; early humans had established a 70,000-year copyright period. And their DMCA takedown notices come by club and bone-tipped arrow.

Re:More images (1)

Group XVII (1714286) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358548)

There's no evidence of earlier hominids playing with even simple decoration, afaik. If we interpret these repetitive designs through what we know about epigraphy rather the study of modern written languages, the claims are less limited.

Re:More images (1)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358714)

In order to produce art it seems that you'd need a community around you. Without a community it would be difficult to find the time to do anything beyond mere surviving....

Or maybe not.. It could be that there are long periods of inactivity -- sitting around waiting for the rain to stop or last night's meal to digest -- punctuated by moments of actual survival. Maybe game was super plenty.

In either case, I like to think that those first human artists were not so different from those today.

Re:More images (1)

Concern (819622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358948)

That's another great question. I have the idea that it was both. For many I'm sure survival was a 24 hour a day job. For others, human intelligence probably opened up staggeringly easy shortcuts to calories, to which the natural world would take many years, or decades, or centures etc. to adapt.

Re:More images (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358798)

The small sample they provide is beautiful, but to the layman appears as a kind of meandering, simple decoration.

Oh dear no! We should limit all of science to only what the dumbest layman can understand! Then and only then no one will feel excluded or uncomfortable. Let's just dumb down EVERYTHING! Oh wait, for the most part we already have...

Please, let's not do to science what Windows has done to computers.

Re:More images (3, Informative)

Adelbert (873575) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359084)

According to a tentative theory mentioned in Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction [amazon.com] , it's possible that the early Ancient Egyptians heard about the technology of "written languages", and then got their top scientists onto replicating the concept, in order to try to correct the economic and military disparity that would result from being illiterate in a literate world.

I'm not sure how well accepted this hypothesis is, but I find it an intriguing idea. It certainly fits in with the behaviour of nations today, as they scramble to try to replicate nuclear technology, say, or high quality Internet search engines.

Re:More images (2, Interesting)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359492)

The small sample they provide is beautiful, but to the layman appears as a kind of meandering, simple decoration.

Indeed. Without some further explanation, the images look like these could simply be something like decorated eggs [wikipedia.org] . Lots of cultures have done it over many millennia, and the patterns you often see are quite complex. My grandmother used to make a Russian/Ukrainian form of them, and she clearly "evolved" patterns of lines by varying those made by her mother and other women in her community.

I'm not saying the researchers don't know what they're talking about. Just from the description of "repetitive patterns" and the images, it's hard to see the difference between language and decoration in this case.

Mmm Eggs (1)

PalmKiller (174161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358262)

It probably says something like, My Eggs, Hands Off.

Re:Mmm Eggs (1)

deander2 (26173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358434)

you joke, but if you had read the article, you would have known that this is exactly what they think it might have meant. =P

The writing's on the wall..... (1)

Wowsers (1151731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358274)

Did it make any more sense than current txt spk?

Translation: (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358292)

Kilroy will be here

Just unfound ... (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358312)

... Easter eggs. What's the big deal?

I hope (1)

jimbobborg (128330) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358384)

I hope no one was walking on those eggshells.

Shopping List (5, Funny)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358406)

Turns out it was a shopping list. First item on the list? Eggs.

Re:Shopping List (5, Funny)

Dan East (318230) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358528)

Then what came first? The shopping list or the egg?

This article was from PNAS, huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358500)

The PNAS jokes practically write themselves!

Vinca (3, Insightful)

dargaud (518470) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358502)

There are several proto-writings, such as the Vinca script [wikimedia.org] which are fascinating, but also hotly debated.

Ancient traditions (4, Funny)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358530)

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.

Indeed, this is quite true and the tradition continues. It's hard to imagine our forebears scratching symbols in eggshell and that one day it would lead to us scratching symbols in kornshell. The shells then were quite fragile, barely able to withstand an errant pointer. A misplaced hash would lead to a shell escape. And don't even get me started on bash. When the ancients were using eggshell, there were many competing mediums. Deer horns and bits of pottery, jade, flecks of obsidian -- they were all prettier and easier to work with. Today it's the same -- there's ruby and perl and a host of others -- but kornshell, and its ancestor eggshell, will always have a place in my heart,

you're confusing your programming mediums (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358820)

clearly, by evidence of the broken eggshells, we're talking about a primitive IRC eggdrop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggdrop [wikipedia.org]

I have examined the shells... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358536)

I have examined the shells, and have been able to decipher the images. It reads...

VERY FIRST POST.

Likely meaning... (1)

trurl7 (663880) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358538)

F1RST SKR4TCH!

The pink one says "ZOMG, Z3BR4Z!"

What does it say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358556)

Probably: boil egg in water for 10 mins.

I'm assuming it's chicken eggs but perhaps they were eating some other egg (duck, turtle, etc) back then?

Unfortunately, the original code was lost... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358564)

when the first paleolithic software writer retired and the sandstone media deteriorated. Given the evidence, the original program probably had something to do with viewing naked women. More research into naked women is continuing.

In other news ... (1)

krou (1027572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358608)

In other news, a preserved skeleton of a a giant prehistoric rabbit-like creature was found in the Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Shells are old, but how old are the markings? (1)

B.Stolk (132572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358614)

Ok, I understand they can carbondate the shells.
However, how did they date the markings?
They may be 300 yrs old.
Especially considering bushmen were still carving shells recently.

Re:Shells are old, but how old are the markings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358932)

Or you can look at the context. If the artifacts around it also belong to that general time period, you can be fairly secure in the carbon date.

Re:Shells are old, but how old are the markings? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359328)

So you're positing that primitive cultures would conduct archaeological digs in order to find ancient egg shells to write on, rather than using the shells of eggs placed conveniently on the ground by contemporary birds.

Interesting.

Hey, since it was one of the archaeologists who made this discovery that pointed out that bushmen still carved shells recently, I bet he could test out this hypothesis.

What's even more interesting is... (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358642)

...the handwriting is on the inside of the shells.

God made Man (0, Redundant)

jamesyouwish (1738816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358646)

this can't be true man was made by good only a few thousand years ago

Re:God made Man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358706)

exactly. There is a reason "scientist" is close to "satanist". Some people seem to get their jollies from driving people away from God. I just don't get it.

High-res photo... (2, Informative)

kirill.s (1604911) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358650)

We need some better pics.
From home it looks now, my best bet is that it's just an ornament of some sort.

This [dailymail.co.uk] looks somewhat better than the pics in the summary link. (Or have I not found the good ones?)

I suspect ancient "Einsteins" were possible (3, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358670)

By an ancient Einstein, I mean someone who develops as significant piece of technology in a single generation. Like fossils in evolutions, this could be so fast that it was not saved in the archeologic record. Two Examples:
Egyptian pyramids went for stacked sand-walled mastabas to full-blown monsters in less than a century. This was attributed to creativity of Imhotep. (also credited with inventing columns in architecture).

The idea of purely phonetic alphabet seen to arise instantly in the archeological record in Ugarit 3400 years ago. It was adapted to Phonecia, Greece, Isreal, Rome etc. Most previous writing systems had combination of pure ideographs and phonetic syllables- ideographs borrowed because they sound like other works (like people do in charades).

writing on egg shells last longer than Disk Drives (2)

goffster (1104287) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358720)

Or for DVD's for that matter

Roc hunting game (2, Funny)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358772)

"Thag! We finally managed to climb to the great bird nest in level 3 peak. There was a mini-game! Look at the writing on this egg!"

"Let me see that..."

[You are in a clearing. A small cabin sits to the east. A dark forest is to the north. Impenetrable bushes are to the south and west. Choose the blue egg to go east. Choose the red egg to go north.]

"Oooh...Dark forest sounds cool. Open the red egg!"

[It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.]

Both cavemen frown.

"Not very original. This just happened to Grok yesterday."

It says... (2, Funny)

goffster (1104287) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358780)

Get viagra cheap at mongo's monster med madness sale!

I know what it said! (2)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358828)

"Don't fear, closed-minded scientists- I saw the big bang, and God wasn't there. No need to worry." :>

Funny how the "open minded" snap shut when you tell them the dataset resides in the Bible...won't even look. Discredited source, though they have no answers.

Typo In Headline & Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358844)

Looks like there's an extra 0 in both the headline and summary.

Re:Typo In Headline & Summary (1)

Group XVII (1714286) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358928)

?? What they are saying is that around about 60,000 years ago a tradition of engraving existed which lasted about 5,000 years.

The symbol loosely translates to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31358854)

Grade A Large

Big govenment even back then (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#31358890)

They are most likely mandated 'best before' dates.

Scientific hubris! (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359026)

"This may be one of [the writing traditions], most probably not the first and certainly not the last."

I appreciate the "probably" on this being the first, but certainly not the last? Well I think it's a little presumptuous to assert that! I wouldn't be surprised if in ten years this scientist is eating crow because it turns out this was the last form of writing!

Prior art for wineglass charms? (1)

clyde_cadiddlehopper (1052112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359048)

>The eggshells were probably used as containers, and the markings may have indicated either the shells' contents or their owner.

I Dunno (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359142)

Considering that, 60,000 years ago, humans simply did not live in large groups, I have a hard time believing that writing would have been invented. Writing, initially, required pretty much a dedicated group of scribes (or possibly, in China, some sort of priestly class). Writing seems to have evolved in every place it was developed as a response to the needs of a large urbanized society.

Note that hunter-gatherer groups have often used symbols (like petroglyphs and pictograms), but these are not writing systems. I am extremely dubious of these claims.

Re: I Dunno (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359260)

Considering that, 60,000 years ago, humans simply did not live in large groups, I have a hard time believing that writing would have been invented. Writing, initially, required pretty much a dedicated group of scribes (or possibly, in China, some sort of priestly class). Writing seems to have evolved in every place it was developed as a response to the needs of a large urbanized society.

I'm skeptical too. I think writing AWKI was always invented as a bookkeeping system for state or temple taxes, or re-invented to imitate nearby prestigious societies that already wrote.

The notion of a solitary Einstein inventing writing for his own use is just absurd.

Re: I Dunno (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359502)

In China, the earliest writing seems to have centered around certain mystical rites. In Sumeria it was most definitely economic in nature; bookkeeping, taxes and the like. I'm not so sure about Meso-America, since there's a lot of difficulty with the Olmec script, but in general it seems to have dealt more with accounts of kings and political interplay between elite groups, so may have served a ritual-political purpose. There is still considerable debate about whether Sumerian writing influenced Egyptian writing, or whether Egyptian writing is in fact one of the very few examples of a wholly independent writing system.

But one thing all these early literate civilizations had in common was urbanized, stratified societies with relatively complex economies and governing systems, which must have been the impetus for the invention of writing to begin with. A society, to my mind, must reach a point where oral and/or pictographic systems become completely inadequate to the task of recording what the society views as key information. Particularly as it refers to economic and political matters, accuracy and permanence are key, and writing delivers this.

What possible impetus would there be for hunter-gatherer groups sixty thousand years ago? I hate to use the term "simple societies", because it sounds pejorative, but one cannot deny that hunter-gatherer groups rarely exceed a few dozen individuals, and their economy is such that it does not make the kind of specialization that has developed writing everywhere we know it developed likely, or even useful. Let's face it, it takes about five years to make a kid completely functionally literate, and during that period their economic output is greatly decreased. I suspect with adults literacy takes even more effort to achieve. Literacy is damned expensive from an economic point of view, and while the benefits more than outweigh the costs, you have to have a society large enough to essentially support a group that can dedicate themselves to learning to write.

No matter how minimalistic, this *is* amazing. (5, Insightful)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359210)

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.

Before the last "wipe" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31359240)

This was the species before the last cleanup of the Matrix.

They should come here (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359330)

This long-term repetition is a hallmark of symbolic communication and a sign of modern human thinking, say the team.

So that explains the constant duplicate Slashdot stories!

hmm (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359446)

Would not surprise me, I'm sure independent writing systems popped up all over the place then died out. One example would be Inca khopu knot-tying notation. Woo, that anthropology degree finally came in handy.

Turn the eggshell upside down (1)

Naked Jaybird (1190469) | more than 4 years ago | (#31359516)

577345993
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