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6. The First Signs: Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's Oldest Symbols by Genevieve von Petzinger

I finished this back in January so most of my thoughts are long gone.

A little-studied element of prehistoric art is the symbols that appear alongside the other figures. Von Petziner is one of the first people to make a systematic study of them. As this is a book aimed at general readers, there's a lot about life in the paleolithic and stories of the discovery of the art of that period. There's also a lot of description of crawling around in muddy caves to verify and better record the symbols which have often been overlooked. She makes it sound like great fun.

Her theory is that art and symbols developed in homo sapiens before they left Africa and just doesn't survive (or hasn't been found) because it emerged so fully formed across Europe at about the same time. Makes sense to me. Along with the art, people developed abstract symbols, a sort of precursor in writing. She doesn't hazard a guess at what individual symbols meant but is cataloguing them to look at distribution over time and place. She also takes a great interest in how the art/symbols were actually made and what that tells us about their makers.

This was a really interesting read, a good addition to my cave art collection.


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