Amateur archaeologist uncovers 20,000-year-old ‘writing’ system

The researcher, Ben Bacon, found that cave drawings were used to record details about the timing of animal reproductive cycles.

The Wilkins Building at University College London, London, England (photo credit: DILIFF/CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Wilkins Building at University College London, London, England
(photo credit: DILIFF/CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

An amateur archaeologist found a previously unknown "writing" system used to make a lunar calendar by hunter-gatherers some 20,000 years ago during the Ice Age.

The researcher, Ben Bacon, found that cave drawings were used to record details about the timing of animal reproductive cycles.

Bacon, as well as a professor from University College London and two others from Durham University, published his findings in a peer-reviewed study in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal on Thursday.

The writing system is believed to have been developed at least 10,000 years before other comparable systems.

After spending numerous hours researching what he called a "proto-writing" system, Bacon showed his research to the team of academics and they encouraged him to continue his studies, according to The Guardian.

Durham Castle Gatehouse (credit: BRYAN PREADY/DURHAM CASTLE GATEHOUSE/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Durham Castle Gatehouse (credit: BRYAN PREADY/DURHAM CASTLE GATEHOUSE/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

“The results show that ice age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systemic calendar and marks to record information about major ecological events within that calendar.”

Prof. Paul Pettitt, Durham University archaeologist

“The results show that ice age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systemic calendar and marks to record information about major ecological events within that calendar,” said Prof. Paul Pettitt, an archaeologist at Durham University and member of the research team.

“We’re able to show that these people – who left a legacy of spectacular art in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira – also left a record of early timekeeping that would eventually become commonplace among our species,” Pettitt added.

The research process

In his research, Bacon attempted to decode sequences of dots and other markings found in over 600 images on cave walls across Europe by searching for patterns in cave drawings and previous findings.

The researchers found from the birth cycles of present-day animals that the number of markings related to Ice Age animals was a lunar record of their mating.

The team did this by "testing ecologically grounded hypotheses about prey behavior using a database of such depiction-associated sequences."

"We reason that investigating the numbers of signs associated with images and the position of within line/dot sequences provide useful indicators of their meaning, based on the uncontroversial assumption that dots/lines represent numbers," the researchers added, noting that the proto-writing system was used over a large geographical area for tens of thousands of years.