HIGHLY MISLEADING EUROPEAN PALEOANTHROPOLOGY
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Genevieve Von Petzinger’s The First Signs, Unlocking The Mysteries Of The World’s Oldest Symbols, (2016) is essential doe a lot of reasons, but don’t let yourself be misled by the title, and a few elements in the book. The author only considers in depth the European sites of Ice Age Homo Sapiens occupation, with some fast consideration of two or three sites in Africa, putting at the same level southern Africa, Sudan, and northern Africa with some extension to the Levant; a couple of mentions of Sulawesi in Indonesia; some allusion to the Aborigines in Australia; and a passing mention of a couple of elements in Asia. Of course (and I insist on this “of course” because the Americas are the heart of the problem) nothing about the Americas, though over the last ten years, both in Alaska-Canada and in Chile, not to speak of Amazonia and the petroglyphs all over the Americas, some important discoveries have brought Homo Sapiens to the north and the south at least around 25,000 BCE and probably in some years it will be ten or twenty thousand years earlier, in the south for sure and in the north probably. She definitely should have checked the site of the Bradshaw Foundation, http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/, to have a global coverage of the problem and she could have mentioned it for readers to have this widening at the tip of their fingers.
That would have enabled this approach to consider the two vastly different Native American civilizations: the stone civilization of the south up to Mexico included and including Amazonia on one hand, and the itinerant and mostly tepee and light-infrastructure civilization of the north with the pueblo/troglodyte buffer zone between the two and some cases of more permanent collective halls made of wood and earth in California. We could actually consider the extreme northern section of the Americas is the area of a third Indian civilization, some sort of transition between the Plains Indians and the Eskimos of Greenland. Along that line, the author should have mentioned the stone art of Baja California that has not been dated properly yet but is very ancient. So she does not deal with the oldest symbols in the world, but only those she considers as the oldest — at least as far as she knows, or as far as she wants to know. She only visited the European sites, trusted what some people said about the southern African sites, totally marginalizing Sally McBrearty, and not even giving details about the Indonesian sites or other Asian sites. If we keep in mind this book is essentially centered on Europe, we can probably limit its pertinence to what it concerns and see the limits of this approach: we are in no way entitled and justified to pretend the rock art she considers is the oldest in the world, because it is probably not, even today as far as we know. In other words, generalizing this study to any global level is a scientific fraud.
But Genevieve von Petzinger’s main positive point is that she acknowledges that we are definitely not considering the evolution of Homo Sapiens far enough in the past; She pushes all the stages of this evolution by at least ten or twenty thousand years, and some even farther. Yet she hardly goes beyond 200,000 BCE for the emergence of Homo Sapiens and she does not entirely negate the cognitive revolution though she pushes it back to 100,000 BCE. As soon as you deal with time and dates you have a problem because she does not give dates in chronological order, hence going up in time but systematically in anti-chronological order for the Paleolithic, from the more recent smaller number to the older bigger number. This seems to be rather common, though, with archaeologists who deal with time outside the historical pale. Let me clearly state the timeline of her book and particularly the four phases of the Ice Age, dated from an unmoving point (BCE), not the present which gets older every day. I added two elements that create a real historical perspective, the peak of the Ice Age and the emergence of agriculture and herding.
1- 200,000 BCE Emergence of Homo Sapiens in Africa;
2- 100,000 BCE Homo Sapiens has full control of language;
3- 38,000–26,000 BCE Aurignacian;
4- 26,000–20,000 BCE Gravettian;
5- 20,000–15,500 BCE Solutrean;
19,000 BCE Peak of the Ice Age;
6- 15,500–9,000 BCE Magdalenian;
16,000–10,000 BCE Emergence of agriculture and herd raising.
Let me say today that specialists prefer speaking of at least 300,000 BCE for the emergence of Homo Sapiens and it is today extremely criticized to pretend there was some kind of cognitive revolution, be it like Yuval Noah Harari’s around 60–50,000 BCE (who incidentally just never mentions the Black African origin of Homo Sapiens), or like the author’s here around 100,000 BCE (who does mention the Black African origin of Homo Sapiens but incidentally more than fundamentally). Today we are considering the emergence of Homo Sapiens as a long progressive continuous movement that may have known some acceleration now and then but definitely nothing that fundamentally changed the phylogeny of Homo Sapiens himself, of his language, of his culture. The real problem is to articulate for example the phylogeny of language onto the three vast migrations out of Black Africa.
THE THREE MIGRATIONS OUT OF BLACK AFRICA
The first was to Northern Africa between 180,000 (at least) and 160,000 BCE with a temporary presence in the Levant up to 80,000 BCE when these Homo Sapiens moved back to come again after 35,000 BCE. Yuval Noah Harari makes fun of these early Homo Sapiens who could not cope with Neanderthals who had been present in the Middle East for several hundred thousand years. This migration brought some Homo Sapiens to Crete around 160,000 BCE where they had no future and got extinct. This migration produced the Semitic languages based on the first articulation of language (more in a moment). The second migration out of Black Africa via the Southern Arabian Corridor between 120,000 BCE and 80,000 BCE went, after crossing at Ormuz, to the whole Asia, meeting the Denisovans in Central Asia and apparently producing all the isolating languages, mostly tonal and using characters (the Chinese writing system, though many other writing systems exist today, old and more recent, among these languages). We even know today the Chinese encountered the Denisovans twice whereas the other people, particularly in Tibet and the mountains and in South East Asia and Melanesia, only met them once.
An article published on the CNN site, “Ancient teeth found in China challenge modern human migration theory,” by Georgia McCafferty and Shen Lu, for CNN, Updated October 15, 2015 (https://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/15/china/china-teeth-cave-nature/index.html), is extremely clear about this second migration positioned between 120,000 and 80,000 BCE. Crossing the Red Sea at Djibouti-Aden and then the strait of Hormuz, going up Central Asia to eventually meet the Denisovans in Central Asia-Mongolia-Siberia and then branching to what is today China and to what is today the Tibetan-Burmese linguistic area from Tibet to Melanesia, probably including the people known as Tamils nowadays. Another recent article on the same CNN site confirms these facts: “Ancient fossil finger bone from Saudi Arabia could challenge the theory of modern migration” by Katy Scott, for CNN, Updated April 9, 2018 (https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/09/health/saudi-arabia-fossil-finger/index.html). Genevieve von Petzinger couldn’t know the latter article but she could not ignore the former.
Strangely enough the author totally neglects these migrations and only considers the third one that reached the Middle East via the Southern Arabian Corridor around 60–50,000 BCE and this migration had two successive waves. The first one at the dates just stated reached the Middle East where they met with Neanderthals and then expanded in two directions: through the Caucasus and Anatolia to the whole of Europe and around the Caspian Sea and up Central Asia where they may or may not have met the Denisovans since no research has been done along this possible line yet, and these reached Siberia, the Urals and further Finland and Lapland. All the languages of these people are third articulation agglutinative languages of the vast family some call Turkic. These Turkic speaking people are the Old Europeans. Strangely enough, the author here does not take this fact into account though it has been vastly proved and demonstrated by Theo Vennemann. The second wave of this migration stayed on the Iranian plateau and migrated again after the peak of the Ice Age, to the West through Anatolia and through the Caucasus and they gave Indo-European languages, and to the East and these gave all the Indo-Aryan languages. These two migrations are positioned at the end of the Solutrean period and during the Magdalenian period.
MUTE HOMO SAPIENS
This knowledge is in sharp contrast with the MUTE Homo Sapiens she brings to Europe, as MUTE as Neanderthals actually, or Denisovans. Here Hominins do not speak. Their languages are never identified and language per se is only considered in chapter 12 as an entity totally cut off from the Homo Sapiens she is speaking of. It is sad indeed because that leads her to what is a linguistic absurd assumption. She studies the rock art of the Homo Sapiens caves in Europe. She neglects the fact that they spoke Turkic agglutinative languages or any other language as for that. She neglects the fact that all rivers, or nearly all, and many valleys and places in Europe have names of Turkic origin that can be traced back to Basque or Turkish (which are only two Turkic languages among many).
That leads her to strange linguistic ideas. She does say page 183 that she is “by no means an expert in linguistics,” but that is no excuse. When she speaks of the geometric abstract signs she very extensively, carefully and systematically collected in the caves she obviously neglects the basic, very basic and fundamental, concept of modern linguistics developed by Ferdinand de Saussure who explained a century ago that a linguistic sign has to be conceived as the arbitrary association of a “signifiant” and a “signifié.” If you consider the signs engraved or painted on the rock face of the caves you have to take into account three elements and not two:
1- Pictorial signifiant; 2- Linguistic oral signifiant; 3- Referential (material or abstract) signifié.
In fact, in the process of generating the pictorial sign on the rock face, Homo Sapiens started from an oral linguistic sign that only associated (2) and (3) and the pictorial signifiant was only added on top of this first linguistic sign thus becoming a meta-signifiant. If she had taken this Saussurean concept into account, then she would have avoided long discussions that lead to nothing. This sign is in no way “writing” but it is definitely a signifying symbolism of a linguistic sign that we ignore totally and cannot discover from a simple European database.
What’s more the concept of entoptic signs that are universally produced in the brain of a person in a trance of some kind by the eyes themselves of this person, is highly tentative for several reasons that she does not even envisage in her book. First, they are identified within the modern context of the situation among the southern African San people who are hunter-gatherers who have kept a very old form of shamanism. A priori that does not justify the universality of these seven signs given page 250. But the retrospective transfer of this shamanism and these seven signs, plus the hands, positive or negative, hands seen in this shamanism as a sign of passing through the veil of the rock to enter the realm of spirits, to the Paleolithic caves of Europe is a method that leads to nothing because it is irrelevant for Paleolithic situations and because it is retrospective and thus a plain transfer justified by some circumstantial though debatable and unproved similarities.
Third, we have to wonder if these signs are produced by the eyes or by the eyes under the influence of some trance-producing drug or physical/mental state. We may think that this drug or that physical/mental state may at least distort the signs, if not induce them entirely. The case of web-weaving spiders is typical to reveal the impact of such “under the influence” states on the weaving activity itself.
“Scientists at the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have turned their attention from the mysteries of the cosmos to a more esoteric area of research: what happens when you get a spider stoned.
“Their experiments have shown that common house spiders spin their webs in different ways according to the psychotropic drug they have been given. Spiders on marijuana made a reasonable stab at spinning webs but appeared to lose concentration about half-way through. Those on Benzedrine — “speed” — spin their webs “with great gusto, but apparently without much planning leaving large holes”, according to New Scientist magazine.
“Caffeine, one of the most common drugs consumed by Britons in soft drinks, tea, and coffee, makes spiders incapable of spinning anything better than a few threads strung together at random. On chloral hydrate, an ingredient of sleeping pills, spiders “drop off before they even get started”.” (http://www.kscience.co.uk/resources/ks3/drugs/spider_experiments.htm)
From my point of view, the brain is a pattern-finding organ and this capability is open. Some patterns might correspond to those presented by Genevieve von Petzinger, but other patterns exist too, like color, movement, perspective (close and distant), 2D or 3D, etc. I am quite critical of considering drug-induced sensory productions as representing the normal functioning of our senses, in this case, the eyes.
SAME, SIMILAR JUST PHYLOGENIC
But fourth, a constant refrain in the book is the desire to consider Paleolithic Homo Sapiens had the same or as good mental characteristics as modern men today, at best (that is to say less dramatic) similar characteristics. This is the negation of plain evolution, development, and phylogeny. And this word phylogeny is the basic shortcoming of the book in its nearly total absence, and that is fundamental when dealing not so much with physical or physiological characteristics but with mental development. And in the case of art she says:
“There can be no doubt that the people who made these images possessed the same levels of artistic knowledge and skill than we do.
“All the art we create today is a legacy of what those people and other groups of early humans around the world developed during the Ice Age. As Pablo Picasso said about modern art after seeing the art in Lascaux Cave in France, “[In 15,000 years] We have invented nothing.” (p. 130)
Note the dating that Picasso gave has been removed by Genevieve von Petzinger, which is quite justified. Paul Bahn published a paper whose abstract is: “Many claims have been made, and continue to be made, concerning Picasso’s reaction to Ice Age cave art — in particular, it is said that he visited either Altamira or Lascaux, and declared that “we have invented nothing” or that “none of us can paint like this.” The paper investigates these claims and finds that they have absolutely no basis in fact. Picasso was minimally influenced by Ice Age art and expressed little interest in it.” (“A lot of bull? Pablo Picasso and Ice Age cave art,” 2005, http://www.euskomedia.org/PDFAnlt/munibe/aa/200503217223.pdf). More generally if it is quite obvious that all the past is our past and that we descend from this past, we have all along developed and improved our capabilities, competences, performances and other skills, mental as well as physical. To project Pablo Picasso onto the past is once again the same old retrospective mistake that proves nothing. Phylogeny states that everything that happens at any time will have consequences in its future and cannot be used to explain, produce, analyze, or whatever other research activity we can dream of, the past and if we do so it will clearly show differences. The physics of today proves that the physics of Newton was maybe a giant step forward in his time but Newton is a midget when compared to quantic physics.
Any phenomenon that is not static (a static characteristic which from many philosophical points of view is absurd: even the most stable elements have a half-life) follows a phylogenetic trajectory from something we can consider the initial state (which it is not since nothing comes from nothing and everything comes from something) to something that we can consider a later state with various stages in-between dictated by the inner phylogenetic logic of what we are considering, captured under the influence of various outer circumstances, both in the time of the object of our study and in our own time of our study.
That would have helped her very much since then she could have asked and easily answered the question of the origin and trajectory of human language.
There is a heritage from previous hominins from whom we descend, so certainly not Neanderthals or Denisovans who are later circumstances and encounters for Homo Sapiens and not genetically in our ascendance: we do not descend from Neanderthals or Denisovans. We know the language of monkeys who do produce some calls articulating vowels on consonants. The monkeys I have worked on with about three or maybe four vowels and four or maybe five consonants produce about seven calls, whereas any Homo Sapiens can produce with these resources at least around 125 items. The problem is monkeys do not have the rotation of vowels and consonants, do not have the first articulation. These monkeys have one simple call “boom” generally redoubled as “boom boom” to capture the attention of their fellow monkeys when a danger is appearing. They have a vowel “a,” a vowel “e” and a vowel “i” but they cannot produce “bam,” “bem,” and “bim,” not to speak of “moob,” “mab,” “meb,” and “mib.” Homo Sapiens can do that. The question is to know when this rotation of vowels and consonants appeared among hominins.
No matter what name we choose for the common ancestor of Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans, one thing is sure: this common ancestor was a migrator who from Africa spread at least up to some sites in Europe but essentially in the Middle East where he evolved into Neanderthals a few 100,000 years before Homo Sapiens, and to Central Asia-Mongolia-Siberia where he evolved into Denisovans who are not descending from Neanderthals, a few 100,000 years before Homo Sapiens. It’s only those among these ancestors who stayed in Africa who evolved several 100,000 years later into Homo Sapiens around some 300,000 years BCE. Note the three descending species purely and simply eradicated their ancestors in the three zones where they evolved, proving they were superior and could thus be naturally selected.
The question is then: what level of language did these Hominins have? There is no way to prove anything about it but the phylogeny of language states that there are three articulations to satisfy to produce fully developed human language. But as soon as one articulation is acquired Homo Sapiens could create a full communicational system by investing the language at any level of development (1st, 2nd or 3rd articulation) into the communicational situation that is the matrix of human linguistic syntax. Without becoming over-technical, languages built on the first articulation are the vast family of Semitic languages; languages built on the second articulation are the vast family of isolating languages (Sino-Tibetan languages); and languages built on the third articulation are the two vast families of agglutinative languages (Turkic languages) and synthetic-analytical languages (Indo-European and Indo-Aryan languages). Each articulation produces basic lexical units. Roots first that are neither nominal nor verbal; stems then that are either nominal or verbal and nothing else hence invariable; and fronds that are nominal and verbal plus carrying all syntactic specifications for either case.
OLD EUROPEANS SPOKE TURKIC LANGUAGES
Since the language of Homo Sapiens in Europe before the Ice Age was of the Turkic family (probably several different but connected languages) the signs on the rock face of the caves are pictorial signifiant of some agglutinative fronds but we cannot know whether they are nominal or verbal, nor what functional cases they carry if nominal and what temporal tenses and moods plus what functional architecture of the sentence they carry if they are verbal. I will not follow Chris Hegg (Deciphering Petroglyphs, Ancient Universal Language of Man, 2015) who states there was a unique common language to all men before the Tower of Babel and God’s decision (as proved for him by Genesis) and that this ancient universal and unique language was written, and we are actually speaking of writing here, on the numerous petroglyphs he studies, many of them if not most being in Northern America. Though human language had only one origin in Black Africa where it started emerging in 300,000 BCE, it very fast differentiated within the vast community in Black Africa and then systematically with the successive migrations. Babel is a myth from the Middle East after the peak of the Ice-Age because then (around 15,000 BCE) Neanderthals had disappeared but there were three vast families of languages existing side by side: Semitic languages, agglutinative languages and Indo-European languages. It is still the case nowadays. There were other areas in the world where such a variety of languages within one family or from two or three different families co-existed. If I kept the concept of the Tower of Babel, I would say there must have been many Towers of Babel in the world and Northern American Indians invented a sign language to communicate in spite of their disparate linguistic affiliations. I will get into details about this book by Chris Hegg at the end of this study.
So I will say that this is “pictorial writing” but of isolated items of which we know nothing. It is vain to pretend we can find any meaning even any cultural dimension in these elements because we do not know what they are, what they are associated to, what meaning they may carry via the oral lexical elements they are attached to. What’s more, if there are syntactic connections between them these can only be concatenation provided the symbols have been written at the very same moment and by the very same person, which we cannot in any way state or assert with absolute certainty. And mind you these same symbols, if they do exist in other areas in the world corresponding to different languages (I mean languages of different articulations, of different families) they might not correspond to the same oral lexical items, even if, to follow Joseph Greenberg, we could imagine these simple pictorial signs correspond to the central basic words or even concepts of all languages that are universal in their roots. But there again we have no inkling of what could be “water,” “sky,” “sun,” “fire,” and many other concepts and what pictorial signs they would or could correspond to. What I say here is that writing, just like language itself, has a phylogenic trajectory. We could and should compare the following writing systems: Sumerian cuneiforms, Egyptian hieroglyphs and further developments on the Rosetta Stone, Phoenician alphabet, Greek alphabet, Ogham Celtic alphabet, Runes alphabets of various Germanic traditions, the Glagolitic alphabet of St Cyril for the language of the Great Moravia in the 9th century, and then we should also study the Mayan writing system, the Chinese writing system and the very numerous writing systems of Asia.
PHYLOGENY OF WRITING
Many languages (Sumerian seems to be an “exception”) start from the representation of words with some pictorial likeness, and then move towards a simplification of the representation that ends up as the symbol of the first letter or syllable of the word: Ogham is based on twenty trees from the area of Frankfurt in Germany, the Runes are based on gods and divinities, weapons and other items, Mayan writing follows the same track with the original images attached to divinities and other common people or items in their culture and simplified signs becoming the written symbol of the initial letter of the word. But we know that any oral civilization does not need writing at all because in their societies they develop a class of people who have the tremendous memory needed to remember everything down to the smallest details. In the Indo-European tradition, this person is a Rsi, in the African tradition this person is a griot, and in the American Indian tradition of northern tribes there are some people who have remembered and transmitted from father to son and even beyond, including some women, all there was to know about their history, their laws, their cultures, their traditions, etc., and some of them are still alive and able to tell what they “remember.” Genevieve von Petzinger ignores all that and cannot accept the simple idea that writing is in no way an absolute necessity.
GENETIC MUTATIONS AND LANGUAGE
Then we come to her vision of Homo Sapiens in his development and first of all in his developing language. And there she makes the mistake Sally McBrearty stigmatized in many of her papers. All the genetic elements she states are proving man was a speaking individual thanks to specific mutations, have not at all been naturally selected because they permitted language but for another reason that was a more immediate survival issue.
The concerned mutations have all been selected, including the famous FOXP2 gene, to enable Homo Sapiens to become for the first time among Hominins a bipedal (he is not the first nor the only one) long distance fast runner, and as for these two latter characteristics, he is a first. This implies a very deep larynx (the pump); a strong diaphragm (the lever or handle of the pump); highly developed subglottal and articulatory areas with rich innervation (Neanderthals as for that is 11% behind); the hyoid bone that conjoins all the muscles of this subglottal area indispensable for the breathing of this long distance fast runner; plus a development of the central coordinating dashboard that the Broca area is that coordinates all the organs for breathing (lungs, heart, diaphragm, larynx, glottis, subglottal area, articulatory apparatus) and of course all the limbs, muscles and sensors in the body necessary for the runner to keep his speed and his equilibrium. And this running was the survival characteristic that was central for Homo Sapiens when he left the forest for the savanna. Language is a side effect, in fact, a collateral side effect, and Homo Sapiens developed it on the basis of his inheritance and the new capabilities these mutations selected for his running provided him with.
HOMO SAPIENS AND WOMEN
The next thing she ignores is the position of women in Homo Sapiens society up to the development of agriculture, and probably in all Hominin societies (apart from chimpanzees). The first element is that Homo Sapiens could not survive and expand if he was limited, as she says too often he was, to living in small communities. Inbreeding condemns such smaller groups to death. So they have to have strict rules about inbreeding. The first rule is common to all mammals or nearly, maybe even beyond mammals: a certain genetic distance is absolute. Incest is impossible, and look what it produced among Pharaohs. The second rule is that new blood, new genes have to be brought into all the communities on a regular basis. Claude Lévi-Strauss or Margaret Mead spent a lot of time studying marriage laws among Amazonian Indians and other hunter-gatherer civilizations some call primitive, though they are not primitive but primordial within the phylogeny of human society. The various communities exchange women and men within marriage customs and the genetic ascendance and descent of all individuals are kept in memory by the “memory individuals” of the various groups. We can assume that such marital exchanges were basic and regular and such marital rites went along with presents and various compensations for the gift or the loss of the persons that are exchanged. Be they women or men is not the point here. Note here that Homo Sapiens had contact with Neanderthals and Denisovans who brought some new blood into the Homo Sapiens line, but the mixed blood individuals probably remained in the Homo Sapiens community, which explains why we still have their genes, and thus Neanderthals and Denisovans did not get the new blood Homo Sapiens could have represented. This could explain, among quite a few other reasons and hypotheses, why Neanderthals and Denisovans disappeared: they were condemned to inbreeding, progressive and increasing inbreeding.
The second element is that as soon as they are thirteen women are starting a career of pregnancies, one every eighteen months. Life expectancy is 29 and not more. Some women are sterile, some women will die when giving birth, some women will die of diseases, accidents, bad encounters with dangerous animals. We can estimate the death rate from birth to thirteen years is close to fifty percent or maybe even more. If the community is to survive, and thrive, hence give some younger individuals to other groups, and be able to expand, which means more than just keep up with the size of the community dictated by the available resources, they have to negate a fundamental natural law: they have to produce more children than available resources would justify or permit, that is to say, an average three children brought to procreating adult age, hoping they do not die afterwards. Within a maximum sixteen years, each woman has to go through an easy eight pregnancies, if not, even more, to cover up the sterile women and other pregnancy and birth problems. That means ten pregnancies for the fertile women, hence the last one at the age of 28, out of 29 years of life expectancy. A woman from 13 onward has a child in her womb, a child on her hip or back and a couple of other children to be taken care of for three to five years. They have to feed the newborns for at least 12 months. This can only be possible collectively.
There is a division of labor here that makes women the central group for the continuation and development of the community, the species too. That’s amazing to read this book written by a young woman and mother and to find very few mentions of women and their particular position. If women are thus responsible for looking after the children all the time, even with some collective organization, with the pooling of the feeding mothers releasing some of them day after day to do other things while those who are not released feed all the children who have to be fed, hence probably two rather than one, women have little time to do much, not to mention cooking, gathering berries, mushrooms, plants, etc., and that’s where the discovery that started in Sulawesi in Indonesia that most hands in the caves were women’s hands is actually but ambiguously confirmed by Geneviève von Petzinger. She states on the same page 129: “Seventy-five percent of the hands he [Dean Snow, note there are more systematic studies but not on European sites] measured were female. . . It wasn’t just a small, select group of male artists. . . People of both sexes and all ages. . . There were both male and female artists working at rock art sites throughout the Ice Age. . .” From a proportion of three to one, the wording turns it into something that sounds like one to one. This is definitely a minorization of women. Yet Genevieve von Petzinger has several cases of painted women with a bison head, which is obviously some kind of ritual. That means women were central in the cultural and spiritual balance of the community. This is pushed aside by the author.
MIGRATION AND COMMUNICATION
Genevieve von Petzinger does not capture the descent of the three various Hominin species from their common Hominin ancestor. She even seems to imply without saying it really that the ancestor might have evolved in Europe and that Neanderthals and Denisovans evolved in Europe too. This is totally wrong. But I have already stated that.
The common ancestor must have had a mental development that enabled him to migrate out of Africa over long distances and settle in various areas. To do that they had to have a communicational tool that enables them to plan, to organize, to realize the project of a migration by coordinating the various participants before, during and after the migration. That implies a communicational tool known as language, plus memory of course. She states page 70 as the final remark on the mental development of Homo Sapiens: “They also must have already had the capacity for full syntactic language.” And that language enables them to “discuss the world around them in a fairly comprehensive way. . . Language, in many ways, is the ultimate proof of people being fully modern. Language’s functions are complex, so if people had full language capacity, it’s a pretty good bet they were just like we are in mind as well as in body.” (p. 71) “Discuss the world” sounds very anachronic, quite modern, what we would do in public places like cafés and restaurants, not to mention university amphitheaters and TV debates.
What is funny is that she starts he exploration of the modern mental state of Homo Sapiens with “using pigments,” “personal adornment,” burying their dead with grave goods,” and “geometric or iconic representations.” The mistake is that these elements prove the existence of some developed communicational tool and situation. But she misses the point of this tool. Language is a construct of the mind and the mind is a construct of the brain. The two constructs are simultaneous, coordinated, reciprocal. This complex human intelligence is based on the work of the brain and then on the work of the mind.
First, the senses receive sensations they transmit to the brain. The brain receives these sensations and turns them into perceptions by discriminating patterns in them. The brain then receives these patterns and registers them with some brain identification. Most animals do that in a way or another according to their visual or auditory capabilities. But the human brain is associated in Hominins with an articulatory and phonatory apparatus that was developed and naturally selected for bipedal long distance fast running in the most advanced state. Homo Sapiens inherited some capabilities and awareness of calls, a language in a way, and he naturally uses his new physical capabilities to produce more vowels and more consonants and to articulate them more often in a more varied way thanks to the rotation of vowels and consonants he probably inherited in its principle and maybe potential from his ancestors. The brain then can construct the virtual mind that can construct at the same time the virtual language we know. The brain identifications of the patterns can become linguistic identifications. This is in continuation with previous species but with more possible opportunities. As soon as perceptions have been lexicalized, as soon as some communication is made possible among Homo Sapiens, they start and develop the mental work that will lead from brain identification to conceptualization via two stages, experimentation, and speculation, including experimentation of the word Mr. X has just invented, experimentation in communication. If it works, if there is some agreement they can speculate and conceptualize items of course but also relations between items.
THE COMMUNICATIONAL SITUATION
And that’s where Genevieve von Petzinger misses an essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It is the communicational situation that is structured as a basic active, ergative or passive structure with basic agents, basic functions, and basic transfer relations. Any human child learns that when he is born. Crying, i.e. calling, brings in care and attention. For many months he will not be able to speak because his larynx is too shallow. But in his mind, he is speaking a lot. If she had taken that into account she would have been able to understand that language is the central tool of the emergence of Homo Sapiens on the basis of whatever communication existed before him, existed in the Hominins from which he was descending in the same way as it existed in the comparable though not equivalent species, Neanderthals and Denisovans, and on the basis of the circumstances that led to migrations, the new circumstances brought by migrations.
If I follow Bertrand Russel, the brain covers three fundamental steps: to sense, to perceive and to identify (or recognize) in brain language. If then I follow Lev Vygotsky the mind follows up and experiments, speculates and conceptualizes. But note Homo Sapiens always had full communication with his fellows, but linguistically this full communication could not be simply defined as “full syntactic language” or “full language capacity.” At any moment in his evolution, Homo Sapiens had and still has a linguistic competence that continued what he received from his predecessors and that went on and still goes on developing according to the circumstances with the mobilization and use of human mental conceptualizing abilities.
To conclude, though I could go on with the discussion for many more pages, Homo Sapiens, just like, and maybe more than, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and their common ancestors, has developed a spirituality of migration. That spirituality enables them to plan the migrations, coordinate the participants, adapt to circumstances creatively, and many other qualities. But all that necessitates
1- Communication and coordination that both necessitate in their turn language;
2- An open creative vision to new environment and circumstances that necessitate in their turn adaptability;
3- Some guidance in the existence of a frame for the common “’project”: targets, finality, and the fulfillment of such, which all imply in their turn a conceptualized vision.
And language is the tool of adaptability through experimentation and speculation. Language is the tool to a conceptualized vision through conceptualization precisely that enables Homo Sapiens to think (and there is no thought and no cognition without language and the mind) and imagine a world beyond simple appearances. Language is the tool and key to the whole human project of Homo Sapiens that goes a long way beyond plainly surviving. Was Homo Sapiens conscious of this project? I would dare to say that rock art in caves is the very proof of this project and its being conscious. It is also the proof that project was carried by women, or was at least carried by women till agriculture changed the division of labor.
It is on this very conclusion I find the book disappointing in spite of some very interesting elements. The author missed the point and definitely hid the forest of human conceptualization behind the pictorial signs that cannot find any meaning in our minds at all, at least as long as we don’t universalize the approach to all signs all over the world, and yet there is no guarantee. But Europe is too small a continent for that objective. And even so, you have to be very optimistic to believe that we will one day find a recording of the language of Ice Age Homo Sapiens, like the Golden Plates Joseph Smith asserted he had discovered on September 22, 1823.
But this is where we can find Chris Hegg, not as the discoverer of Universal Language, but as the collector of what is probably a step between the Ice Age cave signs and even more generally Ice Age cave art and some real writing system to come later: an iconography of real communication with concatenated elements understandable by all beyond linguistic variation and diversity.
APPENDIX: CHRIS HEGG — ANCIENT UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF MAN — 2015
This book brings up a dilemma from the very start.
“My purpose in writing this book is to teach the original Universal Language of man! It is made to lay down in writing the reasoning behind the symbols so dismissed by academia in the past as drug-induced and shamanism drawings.” (p. 1)
What you will learn in the book concerns innumerable rock inscriptions mostly in the Americas, mostly in Northern America, rock inscriptions that are looted by high way robbers often called tourists as if they were gold coins abandoned along the way in mountains and elsewhere. These inscriptions are dated to at most around 15,000 years ago, hence to 13,000 BCE. At once you find out that this universality that is stated here is not really universal and you also find out it is not a language but a code probably based on languages in the plural. Sign language and such codes develop in the world when people are living in a multiple-language situation to enable communication in spite of all. Northern American Indian people had a sign language to permit just that in a continent that counted hundreds of languages of very different families and phylogenic development. Then such a code of rock inscriptions is nothing but normal, natural, useful, indispensable. It is of the same nature as the road signs used today for automobile circulation.
But this dilemma is amplified by another element that has little to do with the subject of the book, though the author repeats it several times.
“’I will attempt to show what existed before this information darkness. A time when Universal Language was made and taught to all the people of every land, so such things as global trading and peace could be accomplished. This was not an esoteric code; it was meant to be globally learned. The Hebrew Bible describes this Universal Language existing in Babel, as they tried to make a “tower” to the heavens and the language was ultimately changed to many different languages.” (p. 2)
The reference to Babel and its Tower in Babylon is very badly inspired because we all know it is a myth that has no historical reality but that is recent and corresponds to rather recent history, just a few thousand years BCE. The Middle East was a region in the world crossed by many people of many communicational systems. Neanderthals, then some people migrating out of Black Africa, via the Sinai and who were speaking Semitic languages of the first articulation, and these went back to Northern Africa in 80,000 BCE to come back again in 35,000 BCE. Then agglutinative language speakers of the third articulation of language and all speaking some Turkic languages arrived, settled and went on vast migrations to Europe, Central Asia, Siberia and the Urals, around 50,000 BCE. And then later on some third articulation language speakers of the synthetic-analytical tradition that will give Indo-European languages and Indo-Aryan languages. The Sumerians are of this last family and they cohabit with the Akkadians who are speaking a Semitic language and are the scribes of the Sumerians who invented what is considered as the first (probably one of the first) writing systems. Two languages, one writing system. The myth of the Tower of Babel is rewriting history in reverse order. Linguistic diversity is original and not the result of the decision of anyone to split up a unique language into many pieces.
If we want to appreciate the book we better get rid of all shamanism, biblical or other ideological approaches and look at the rock signs as what they are rock signs that have to be considered panel after panel as some kind of articulated and architecturally-constructed code. Then You will love the book, even if you do not understand all the details and capture everything in the numerous original illustrations.
These signs have many functions.
They are road signs giving instructions how to go here or there, how to find secret caves hidden behind some vegetation and even the dangers you may come across if you follow the paths that are indicated.
They are also giving you a tremendous quantity of information on the date, the season, the time and what you may find or see according to these temporal elements. You will thus find full descriptions of the cycles of the seasons and of the moon, and some information about the sun and one constellation that can tell you the season you are in, particularly Cassiopeia that turns in the sky with the seasons, and even the very complex Analemma which is the omega-like trajectory of the sun in the sky according to the season and date. “If you looked at the Sun at the same time each day, from the same place, would it appear at the same location in the sky? If the Earth were not tilted, and if its orbit around the Sun were perfectly circular, then, yes, it would. However, a combination of the Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt and its slightly elliptical orbit combine to generate this figure “8” pattern of where the Sun would appear at the same time throughout the year. The pattern is called an analemma.” (http://solar-center.stanford.edu/) This is universal in a way. All human civilizations have needed that knowledge, in a way, this way, or another, many others, to be able to migrate out of Black Africa, and then to go on migrating to and in all the other continents, including the Americas, and to settle here and there and survive and/or prosper.
So these “road signs” are also temporal indicators and seasonal almanacs. But they also give you some indication of what kind of living being you may encounter. Human beings of course, but also what he calls quadrupeds, which is surprising in Northern America since the horse will only arrive in 1492. So these quadrupeds have to be game before 1492, and we may think of buffaloes of course. But I like lizards who are often represented, and of course snakes, particularly rattlesnakes who have a strange practice of rattlesnake migrations when some danger is at hand, a migration that targets the danger more than runs away.
These road signs have other functions too. Commercial apparently since they provide some information on the roads, paths, trails and their conditions for the transportation of goods, or loads and burdens. And yet they also give here and there indications on the various burial grounds you may find and the various divisions of the land in patches. This is surprising since such a phenomenon seems to have developed only with agriculture. Before, hence from 300,000 BCE to 15,000 BCE the various groups had territories that were collectively controlled. It is only with agriculture that the land became divided either for various crops, hence technically, or because of the person who was responsible for taking care of this or that patch, or even who owned this or that patch which may then imply that those who did not have land under control or under possession had to work for the community including the land-controllers or land-owners. That pretty well dates the rock panels in time. But that also proves that by something like 15,000 BCE or even before some sections of Northern America were occupied by human beings who practiced agriculture. The author says something nice about the Clovis Theory and the idea that Homo Sapiens only arrived in the Americas around 5,000 BCE. He could have forgotten about it. This Clovis theory is dead now we have found some archaeological remains in Alaska and Canada going back to 25,000 BCE, hence six thousand years before the peak of the last Ice Age, and at the same time an archaeological site in southern Chile has reached a layer that is from 25,000 BCE and there is a third layer under it that is tentatively dated to the 30,000s BCE.
The conclusion here is that this rock language or code is there to keep in solid form what people need to know to move around in a vast territory, to cultivate plants and other crops, to avoid some dangers. This is an iconographic system brought up by the agricultural development of society.
This very rich content is sadly harnessed with ideological myths that shift the interest of the book and can only cause hostile reactions, particularly with the mention of extra-terrestrials or giants who have of course disappeared but could fly over the land. The best Universal Language case is ironical, I guess, when he identifies trains on some rocks. Trains only appeared in the USA in the 19th century. It is quite obvious that some of these inscriptions are very recent and it would be good for all these inscriptions to be dated properly and some might appear as being recent graffiti.
SHORTER REVIEW OF GENEVIEVE VON PETZINGER’S BOOK
VON PETZINGER — THE FIRST SIGNS, UNLOCKING THE MYSTERIES OF THE WORLD4S OLDEST SYMBOLS — 2016
Genevieve von Petzinger is young for sure and she has just finished her Ph.D., but she is connected to National Geographic in their Paleoanthropology department, which is supposed to be a good affiliation. You will surely be interested in many of the information she gathered about rock art and the personal research she did on collecting all geometric or iconic signs present in Homo Sapiens caves in Europe. But the book is not up to the research in the field of the last ten or fifteen years, at times even more.
First of all, her locking her personal research onto Europe is of course very dubious and definitely unacceptable in our global world. Then her coverage of Africa is only collecting information about what others have done, and yet her only one-time mention of Sally McBrearty is very strange because Sally McBrearty spoke very loudly against two myths in this field of research. First she rejected the idea of a Neolithic agricultural revolution for one main reason: it took a long time and personally I will amplify what she said and published and add that Homo Sapiens, particularly when he started migrating out of BLACK Africa, had to take care, the very first form of cultivation, of the natural garden to make sure he was able to survive and expand in his various new environments. Their food has been identified from research on their teeth and it shows an extremely varied food and what’s more Neanderthals shows the same phenomenon, though maybe at a less developed level. We do not know about Denisovans.
The second thing Sally McBrearty was very critical of is the idea of a cognitive revolution somewhere around 50,000 BCE, and the connection some insist on about a possible genetic change, mutations at the time and particularly the FOXP2 gene. I have amplified this approach and I just ask a simple question: what genetic mutations were naturally selected to enable Homo Sapiens to become a bipedal long distance fast runner since his leaving the forest and his coming down into the savanna required that evolution? And I found out that all the elements these cognitive revolutionaries are putting on the table are all necessary genetic mutations for Homo Sapiens to become that bipedal long distance fast runner which was absolutely indispensable if he wanted to survive in the savanna.
The collateral side effect of these mutations is that Homo Sapiens was able to multiply the vowels he could utter and the consonants he could articulate. He could then develop human articulated language that counts three articulations. The first one based on the rotation of vowels and consonants was not possessed by monkeys but we do not know whether Neanderthals and Denisovans had it and if the common ancestors of these two Hominins species plus Homo Sapiens had also developed this rotation of vowels and consonants, this first articulation. I believe they had because they needed a full communicational system, hence an articulated language, even with only one articulation and not the three of our languages, to be able to plan, organize, control and guide the migrations they all were engaged in. The common ancestors to the Middle East and to Central Asia-Mongolia-Siberia where Neanderthals and Denisovans were to evolve, and of course Neanderthals who migrated from the Middle East to the whole of Europe and Denisovans who also migrated from Central Asia to a vast zone in Asia, though their presence in Asia is far from being fully documented.
But Genevieve von Petzinger is short on a few other subjects. She does not study the THREE basic migrations out of BLACK Africa and thus she misses the linguistic problem of the three migrations: Semitic languages first, isolating languages second, and agglutinative and synthetic-analytical languages third. She is so ignorant on this subject that she does not know about the vast research of Theo Vennemann who proved, I repeat proved, Old Homo Sapiens in Europe, the Homo Sapiens of the Ice Age that von Petzinger is considering, spoke a set of Turkic agglutinative languages and nothing else. She neglects the fact that a great number of rivers and geographical areas are still using names that can be traced to Basque or Turkish, hence to Turkic roots. It is these people who painted the caves in Europe.
If she had opened her interest to Indonesia (Sulawesi), to Asia in general, to the Americas and to Africa, she would have found out that rock art is in no way European and it might even be older in some other continents. The author should check the site of the Bradshaw Foundation and she would be able to open up her approach to the whole world. But Sulawesi in Indonesia only would have provided her with the idea that most hands in these caves are female hands and that would have helped her to avoid her minimization of the role of women that she shifts from 75% to nothing but equal, from a 3 to 1 dominance to an equal contribution. This pushing aside of women’s role in these rock art paintings helps the author NOT TO CONSIDER the basic and vital (meaning survival) division of labor of women in Ice Age societies and probably in all Homo Sapiens societies till their emergence 300,000 BCE, that made women the central group in their societies that could 1- be clear about the rejection of inbreeding (a natural characteristic common to at least all mammals); 2- be clear on the role of women in delivering and raising the necessary children who will assume the survival of the community, of the species and their expansion; 3- the spiritual role women played in these societies.
Without falling into the Babel Biblical ranting and raving of some (like Chris Hegg) about the real existence of one unique language before Babel and its tower, I must admit that Genevieve von Petzinger did waste a lot of time about transferring the San hunter-gatherer community in South Africa today and their shamanistic practice, reinforced by the entoptic universal sign theory that is at least debatable, onto the Homo Sapiens communities of Europe during the Ice Age, to come to the conclusion that we cannot conclude these Homo Sapiens had any kind of shamanistic practice. When you come to such a conclusion in your research it is good to drop the research itself and look for another approach.
The other approach is in de Saussure and his theory of the linguistic sign. For Genevieve von Petzinger, in spite of chapter 12 that is purely superficially unthought-through linguistic amateurish prose, Homo Sapiens is mainly MUTE, which he was not. He had a fully developed communicational tool called language that had three deep articulations in this particular case in Europe and it is obvious — meaning absolutely unavoidable and inescapable — that the geometric and maybe iconic signs in the caves along with the hands and all the paintings corresponded to a “word” or “discursive linguistic entity” that had an oral signifier and a semantic signified (meaning) and that Homo Sapiens superimposed onto this linguistic sign a pictographic or geometric sign that was, in fact, a visual signifying superimposed onto the dual linguistic sign. We do not know what these signs mean because we do not know what linguistic signs are behind, and we might never know, but it is not scientifically acceptable to transfer a modern world shamanistic practice onto another practice that is at least 45,000 years older. Such retrospective transfer is a methodological mistake that disqualifies eventual conclusions.
Luckily Genevieve von Petzinger herself concludes that is worth nothing, that no shamanism can be proved. So why on earth did she write and published all these pages on something that is worth nothing? I am in the process of publishing a much longer study on this book because it is dangerously misleading for younger researchers, or a younger audience, who may let themselves be lured by such pages and chapters.