In her TED Talk Why Are These 32 Symbols Found in Caves All Over Europe, Genevieve von Petzinger argues that there are only 32 symbols found in pre-historic caves in Europe. Furthermore, because early language/writing systems were pictographic (i.e., Sumerian, Egyptian), there may be a cognitive connection between symbols in ancient caves and the development of written languages.
In summary, these 32 symbols may represent the first form of written language the world has known.
Personally, I’ve wondered for some time: why do we only see pictographs and cave art in full flowering? I’ve been to Utah’s Nine Mile canyon that has the largest concentration of petroglyphs anywhere in North America. These petroglyphs are simultaneously beautiful and mysterious. But they definitely are not childish. When I observe the writing and drawing of my 8 and 5 year old, it looks childish, typical for their age group. In contrast, my observation of petroglyphs and cave art is that such executions are mature, thought-through, practiced, deliberate, and capable (even if they do not fulfill modern aesthetic expectations).
Why do we not find evidence of ancient petroglyph practice? Even ancient Mesoptamian cuneiform tablets bear the tell-tale signs of scribe-in-training sloppiness (sorry I couldn’t find an image to share). I’ve held such a tablet in my hand at the Yale Babylonian Collection in the Sterling Memorial Library.
Why does there not seem to be evidence in the most ancient forms of pre-historic art, of artistic growth and development as we see from childhood to adulthood ?