Why are these 32 symbols found in caves all over Europe | Genevieve von Petzinger

Why are these 32 symbols found in caves all over Europe | Genevieve von Petzinger

There’s something about caves — a shadowy opening in a limestone
cliff that draws you in. As you pass through the portal
between light and dark, you enter a subterranean world — a place of perpetual gloom,
of earthy smells, of hushed silence. Long ago in Europe, ancient people also entered
these underground worlds. As witness to their passage, they left behind mysterious
engravings and paintings, like this panel of humans, triangles
and zigzags from Ojo Guareña in Spain. You now walk the same path
as these early artists. And in this surreal, otherworldly place, it’s almost possible to imagine that you hear the muffled footfall
of skin boots on soft earth, or that you see the flickering of a torch
around the next bend. When I’m in a cave, I often find myself wondering
what drove these people to go so deep to brave dangerous and narrow
passageways to leave their mark? In this video clip, that was shot half a kilometer,
or about a third of a mile, underground, in the cave of Cudon in Spain, we found a series
of red paintings on a ceiling in a previously unexplored
section of the cave. As we crawled forward, military-style,
with the ceiling getting ever lower, we finally got to a point
where the ceiling was so low that my husband
and project photographer, Dylan, could no longer achieve focus
on the ceiling with his DSLR camera. So while he filmed me, I kept following the trail of red paint
with a single light and a point-and-shoot camera
that we kept for that type of occasion. Half a kilometer underground. Seriously. What was somebody doing down there
with a torch or a stone lamp? (Laughter) I mean — me, it makes sense, right? But you know, this is the kind of question that
I’m trying to answer with my research. I study some of the oldest
art in the world. It was created by these
early artists in Europe, between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago. And the thing is that I’m not just studying it
because it’s beautiful, though some of it certainly is. But what I’m interested in
is the development of the modern mind, of the evolution of creativity,
of imagination, of abstract thought, about what it means to be human. While all species communicate
in one way or another, only we humans have really
taken it to another level. Our desire and ability
to share and collaborate has been a huge part of our success story. Our modern world is based on a global
network of information exchange made possible, in large part,
by our ability to communicate — in particular, using graphic
or written forms of communication. The thing is, though, that we’ve been building
on the mental achievements of those that came before us for so long that it’s easy to forget that certain
abilities haven’t already existed. It’s one of the things
I find most fascinating about studying our deep history. Those people didn’t have the shoulders
of any giants to stand on. They were the original shoulders. And while a surprising number
of important inventions come out of that distant time, what I want to talk to you about today
is the invention of graphic communication. There are three
main types of communication, spoken, gestural —
so things like sign language — and graphic communication. Spoken and gestural are
by their very nature ephemeral. It requires close contact
for a message to be sent and received. And after the moment
of transmission, it’s gone forever. Graphic communication, on the other hand,
decouples that relationship. And with its invention,
it became possible for the first time for a message to be
transmitted and preserved beyond a single moment in place and time. Europe is one of the first places that we start to see graphic marks
regularly appearing in caves, rock shelters
and even a few surviving open-air sites. But this is not the Europe we know today. This was a world dominated
by towering ice sheets, three to four kilometers high, with sweeping grass plains
and frozen tundra. This was the Ice Age. Over the last century, more than 350 Ice Age rock art sites
have been found across the continent, decorated with animals, abstract shapes
and even the occasional human like these engraved figures
from Grotta dell’Addaura in Sicily. They provide us with a rare glimpse into the creative world and imagination
of these early artists. Since their discovery, it’s been the animals that have received
the majority of the study like this black horse
from Cullalvera in Spain, or this unusual purple bison
from La Pasiega. But for me, it was the abstract shapes,
what we call geometric signs, that drew me to study the art. The funny this is that at most sites the geometric signs far outnumber
the animal and human images. But when I started on this back in 2007, there wasn’t even a definitive list
of how many shapes there were, nor was there a strong sense of whether the same ones
appeared across space or time. Before I could even
get started on my questions, my first step was to compile a database of all known geometric signs
from all of the rock art sites. The problem was that while they were
well documented at some sites, usually the ones
with the very nice animals, there was also a large number of them
where it was very vague — there wasn’t a lot
of description or detail. Some of them hadn’t been visited
in half a century or more. These were the ones
that I targeted for my field work. Over the course of two years, my faithful husband Dylan and I
each spent over 300 hours underground, hiking, crawling and wriggling
around 52 sites in France, Spain, Portugal and Sicily. And it was totally worth it. We found new, undocumented geometric signs
at 75 percent of the sites we visited. This is the level of accuracy
I knew I was going to need if I wanted to start answering
those larger questions. So let’s get to those answers. Barring a handful of outliers,
there are only 32 geometric signs. Only 32 signs across a 30,000-year time span
and the entire continent of Europe. That is a very small number. Now, if these were random
doodles or decorations, we would expect to see
a lot more variation, but instead what we find
are the same signs repeating across both space and time. Some signs start out strong,
before losing popularity and vanishing, while other signs are later inventions. But 65 percent of those signs stayed
in use during that entire time period — things like lines, rectangles
triangles, ovals and circles like we see here
from the end of the Ice Age, at a 10,000-year-old site
high in the Pyrenees Mountains. And while certain signs
span thousands of kilometers, other signs had much more
restricted distribution patterns, with some being limited
to a single territory, like we see here
with these divided rectangles that are only found in northern Spain, and which some researchers have speculated could be some sort
of family or clan signs. On a side note, there is surprising degree
of similarity in the earliest rock art found all the way from France and Spain
to Indonesia and Australia. With many of the same signs
appearing in such far-flung places, especially in that 30,000
to 40,000-year range, it’s starting to seem increasingly likely that this invention actually traces back
to a common point of origin in Africa. But that I’m afraid,
is a subject for a future talk. So back to the matter at hand. There could be no doubt that these signs
were meaningful to their creators, like these 25,000-year-old
bas-relief sculptures from La Roque de Venasque in France. We might not know what they meant,
but the people of the time certainly did. The repetition of the same signs,
for so long, and at so many sites tells us that the artists
were making intentional choices. If we’re talking about geometric shapes, with specific, culturally recognized,
agreed-upon meanings, than we could very well be looking at one of the oldest systems
of graphic communication in the world. I’m not talking about writing yet. There’s just not enough
characters at this point to have represented all of the words
in the spoken language, something which is a requirement
for a full writing system. Nor do we see the signs
repeating regularly enough to suggest that they were
some sort of alphabet. But what we do have
are some intriguing one-offs, like this panel from La Pasiega in Spain,
known as “The Inscription,” with its symmetrical markings on the left, possible stylized representations
of hands in the middle, and what looks a bit
like a bracket on the right. The oldest systems of graphic
communication in the world — Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs,
the earliest Chinese script, all emerged between 4,000
and 5,000 years ago, with each coming into existence
from an earlier protosystem made up of counting marks
and pictographic representations, where the meaning
and the image were the same. So a picture of a bird would really
have represented that animal. It’s only later that we start to see
these pictographs become more stylized, until they almost become unrecognizable and that we also start to see
more symbols being invented to represent all those other
missing words in language — things like pronouns, adverbs, adjectives. So knowing all this, it seems highly unlikely that
the geometric signs from Ice Age Europe were truly abstract written characters. Instead, what’s much more likely is that these early artists
were also making counting marks, maybe like this row of lines
from Riparo di Za Minic in Sicily, as well as creating
stylized representations of things from the world around them. Could some of the signs
be weaponry or housing? Or what about celestial objects
like star constellations? Or maybe even rivers, mountains,
trees — landscape features, possibly like this black penniform
surrounded by strange bell-shaped signs from the site of El Castillo in Spain. The term penniform
means “feather-shaped” in Latin, but could this actually be
a depiction of a plant or a tree? Some researchers have begun
to ask these questions about certain signs at specific sites, but I believe the time has come
to revisit this category as a whole. The irony in all of this, of course, is that having just carefully classified
all of the signs into a single category, I have a feeling that my next step
will involve breaking it back apart as different types of imagery
are identified and separated off. Now don’t get me wrong, the later creation
of fully developed writing was an impressive feat in its own right. But it’s important to remember that those early writing systems
didn’t come out of a vacuum. And that even 5,000 years ago, people were already building
on something much older, with its origins stretching back
tens of thousands of years — to the geometric signs
of Ice Age Europe and far beyond, to that point, deep
in our collective history, when someone first came up with the idea
of making a graphic mark, and forever changed the nature
of how we communicate. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Why are these 32 symbols found in caves all over Europe | Genevieve von Petzinger

  1. 1. es können bilder sein von ureinwohner für nächste kommende das es dort tiere gab etc ganz einfach

    es kann aber auch gut sein das leute uns damit necken sprich ablenkung den ein gehirn eines neandertaler hatte hunger und keine zeichnungs grund idee?! 9:26 zb whats this?

  2. the human story is NOT a SUCCESS story . . . . . . . . . it is a story of degradation , devolution, social chaos , genocides, and finally extinction , , only by the Holy Name Of Jesus will a few be SAVED to populate a world that was conquered FROM humans in order to save it . Those saved will live in Paradise. Those unsaved will go to CHAOS . . . . .. oh by t he way , if you dig the soil you were crawling on, you will find that it is dirt that was carried into the cave by a flood, so it wasnt the floor one foot from the ceiling but rather 5 foot of washed-in soil . . . ;.

  3. Citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research – whether community-driven research or global investigations. The Citizen Science Association unites expertise from educators, scientists, data managers, and others to power citizen science.

  4. Consider counting marks.
    One of the sets showed a set of counting marks that starts off roughly horizontal and then neatly turns (the marks are still grouped).
    My guess is that they are trying to say "The herds (food) that migrate through here fill the valley/canyon.
    Meaning "abundant food"
    If this is so, it surely is telling others where the herds travel when they come through as well (hunting ground).
    There weren't enough marks displayed for me to pick up on a water symbol. (More than one symbol? Like spring vs brook?)
    I would also assume that there would be marks for dangerous predators. Some of the hand like symbols could be bear paws or simplified versions of other paws.
    I think clan marks might be rarer than we would like to believe. As recently as the 1930's, a disease would come through and kill half the children.
    Most likely the 65% common symbols are survival related.
    Excellent talk BTW!
    Thank you for posting!

  5. 9:23 panel from Spain – Compare it to pillar 43 at Gobekli Tepe. Right side has the bags at the top, with shape of T-top it rests on, next front with the two hands, and finally the left side with single caring matching outline depicted.

  6. Love how she speaks, she is really clear yet passionate. Amazing so few different signs originally but back then they probably only had a limited vocabulary. Would like to hear if she has looked at the San cave art in Africa which goes back 50,000 years and is also fascinating.

  7. Anoder great explanation I found about cave drawings is a YouTube 8 parts documentary called :. "the knowledge of the forever time" . Highly recommended.

  8. It's in human nature to go were none have gone before. And to prove you were there they left some graffiti.
    Woulden't you?

    Nothing came out of africa! It's a pathetic theory and a terribe axiom! Were are the "missing" link?
    Nowere because it doesen't exist!

  9. Humans inhabit at least this section of our galaxy The Milky Way
    Races are indeed from diferent planets
    Totally incompatible
    But peace brother

  10. Yeah, certainly ice ages created the european brain, surviving there required lots of calculations you bloody fools, with all due respecto respeto

  11. 10:03
    Yup it's a bird..and my interpretation goes like this.

    3,500 BC- a sitting bird
    2,500 BC- a flying bird
    500 BC- a dead bird

  12. The are groupings Mark's like stars and freckle on the skin we may have and out to trade umongst each other in person and I believe more and more intimate cousaluaty or inspirational teacher class and Presently youser refer~agnostic poler and instetutinal flascking and resolution anillitecol forming and area rafting formed for reflectin and formal living scouting out within awer lurned State contiesnes out to be ment for the day before yesterday I had to be with him and his family is so good and I will be there for me to and as I am so excited to see if they very much and like me! Choose to do with me for I may be kind and generous to! Big up's yahoo!

  13. Yup,deff went on the right path of the subject,can't wait for the explanation about why some particular sign went throw time and space across the continent ,probably early days were filled with more imitate alike behaviour..some of those sign prob were half know to theyrselves,but kept imitate,and draw,aka,adnote them just because thet were important,seen somewhere,believed special and worth to carry on…

  14. You have to wonder what Humans were up to BEFORE that last ice age (12,000y)…and just how icey was it? I Don't think the Australian Aboriginal saw much ice and we're told they go back 50,000 years. Surely their rock art is more interesting.

  15. Has there been a suggestion that these are 'reminders' for shamans & such. One image looked like a planting area with star locations in the sky. These images are often located in difficult spots. A shaman would take pupils & show them these images; perhaps while telling them stories. I do not have the impression that everybody in the tribe would see them. The caves often seem like a hidden library for shamans and the like.

  16. Very interesting.. graphic language or thinking is faster than linear as today…she is very right .. we should reinvent oure self

  17. Why? Because they didn't have paper or Amazon books. …. Just kidding. I enjoyed the talk. She is an excellent speaker and interesting topic. Piqued my curiosity. Wish I could hear more from her on this topic.

  18. That outline of the hand is a sign pimps back in the Stone Age would leave in different places called the FAF sign. It basically meant ‘WOMAN ACT RIGHT OR YOU GET FIVE ACROSS THE FACE!’ Any women that went into a cave bearing the FAF normally came back out with nappy hair.

  19. If you believe mankind lived in caves then you ought to try doing that yourself. ..an damp dingy environment with little or in some cases no natural light and extremely cold even on the hottest of summer's days makes for the harshest of environmental habitats along with an constant need for fire wood that's almost insatiable. ..I could understand Bin Laden living in an cave but somehow not the mass of mankind as such unless some very pressing need was the requirement…Now what was that need?

  20. Humans have evolved…evolved to using spray paint on the subway walls and the train cars. On the sides of vacant (and occupied) buildings, bridges, in the sewers under the streets and in school yards across the country. Much of the graffiti is profanity. A younger part of a generation who knows not the value or respect of another's property. Not much has changed over the centuries. Kids with nothing to do, or just plain goofing off when there's chores to be done. Think on this; a few hundred or a few thousand years from now, when the cities of Detroit, Queens, New Brunswick, New Orleans or Miami (as an example) are nothing more than vast waste-lands—future archeologists will discover the punk spray paint scribbles and swear words on concrete every where, and wonder, "Wow, what can we learn from the civilizations that lived here at one time? These same type of markings are found all over! Somebody left us a message. They're trying to tell us something? But What??"

  21. "PRIEST" is the etch of the BUCK. Knowing place in eternity. IT is duel atm. The Lot is, Prophecy is written in/on ALL things, knowing what is to seen being lifted up. AI, is dense and The medium is light conductive to each individual. Like "gravity" Conductive to self never giving a charge to reconstruct as a true "common" collective.

  22. They more than likely went into the caves for warmth in the ice age. And idk about y’all but I’d be bored af sitting in a cave. It was probably for amusement more than anything. A way to pass the time and communicate at the same time. They also picked a place they knew their paintings wouldn’t disappear due to weather etc. pretty amazing if you ask me.

  23. There are far more instances of similar markings found in ancient civilizations, what did they all have to look at that was the same for everyone? The nights sky. early developing solar system and plasma discharges between planets are a possibility, in the lab many different plasma discharges have been created that look identical to the wall art. Look up electric universe theory.

  24. I love this because it searches for truth.Our understanding of ancient history is improving and being stuck in a particular standard such as "Clovis first"is ignorant.In Texas they found so many dinosaur tracks and bones in Grapevine and Lewisville the construction workers stopped reporting them because they were shut down no paycheck.I knew a few of them.Maybe short sighted but they need to make a living.

  25. I dont know about the 32 symbols but I have noticed nearly all speakers at TED are women. They always seem to be heads of departments too. I thought women got overlooked for all these top jobs!!!!

  26. It`s amazing to think about the fact that the main difference between these people and modern people today is just that we were born at different points in time. These people initiated the evolution of society spiralling through the ages and it continues until this very moment, like an everlasting implicit hymn that framed human nature and oriented it towards the creation and perfection of humanity. They created all this out of nothing and countless of generations sacrificed themselves in accordance with the highest values – yet, many people today take all they have for granted and think of themselves as entitled to bend reality to their will, anticipating instant gratification above all else.

  27. Pre ice age Sigils exist all over the world. They were used in spelling, long before any written language, and some characters were incorporated into alphabets. Whole hills in Scotland to fields in Sandusky Ohio are covered in them.
    Pictures available. !!!
    p.s.The opening picture shows, at least two reclining giants.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJJNZ1K1aTQ&t=120s !!!

  28. There doesn't have to have been any communication or sharing of symbols between different artists. A likely reason for repeated symbols is due to the fact that they were made by men, and those doodles happen naturally using fingers and basic colorings. Of course, there could still be communication, but a large portion may have not been.

  29. The so called symbols are in the caves to protect them and they are enhancing marks of an already artwork on the walls. They are to be seen in low lite and create shadows to finish the highlights, these messages were left behind to record history of the time . I have read many of these and this type is more from the time of 15th century.

  30. I think it was the flood that pushed everybody into the caves. I did Plumbing for a while , you'd be surprised what a cave can do with all of its tunnels. Caves can go down but then go right back up again kind of creating like what's in a toilet. If you have two Pathways around the drain you would have a way over and then not back until the water receded.

    I wonder if the reason why they haven't tested the date is because they're afraid they might correlate with each other too closely as if it happened all over at one time.

  31. Skip this video, unless you enjoying unlearning fake science. Ms. von Petzinger, a paleoanthropologist and rock art researcher (LOL!) has no coherent clue about the 32 symbols, but that never stopped anyone from delivering a TED talk. These things are babblefests for narcissists, both on stage and in the audience. Mensa meetings for the intellectually insecure.

  32. Poor europeons reach so hard to be recognized in the ancient world. But Africans created you. You are not even in the bible you push. Your most greatest achievement was Stonehenge and it looks like a 3 year old built it. Europe was full of diseased maniacs that were sent to fall off the edge of the earth got lucky and landed in America. After landing in America your knowledge boomed all of a sudden astronomy made sense, maybe from the books you stole from America.

  33. i studied for 35 years on…. who am i kidding, i studied nothing. Wouldn't it be just common sense that thousands of years earlier, the geography of the cave would've been different? Perhaps they didn't crawl on their bellies as silt hadn't been deposited in that area and instead just pleasantly wandered to that part of the cave and thought…"meh, this looks like a good spot to paint".

  34. That feel when they where just killing time and having fun and you spend your life trying to unravel absolute poppycock. Jokes aside, great talk on a marvelous subject!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *