Prehistory: Proto-writing The origin of pictographic & ideographic writing systems.
⇐ Use this menu to view and help create subtitles for this video in many different languages. You'll probably want to hide YouTube's captions if using these subtitles.
- Imagine Alice traveled back over 50,000 years
- to find her distant ancestor, Bob.
- Now, up until this time,human culture was relativily unsophisticated
- usualising the same primitive stone tools
- which went unchanged for thusands of years.
- But somewhere around 50,000 years ago,
- something interesting happened,
- and nobody knows for sure why.
- There was a sudden explosion of diverse cultural artifacts,
- including instruments for making music, new tools
- and other forms of creative expression.
- Humans developped the ability to externalise their inner thoughts.
- They begin to communicate using language.
- So, Alice begins her search by looking for water.
- She knows that human and animal populations tend to migrate towards and along rivers,
- which are the life blood of ecosystems.
- Eventually she comes across an interesting marking.
- Bob's handprint.
- This marking contains very little information,
- simply that he was here, and could possibly return.
- Alice knows Bob is equally intelligent,
- he can communicate orally,
- although he culture has not yet developped the ability to read or write
- in their native language.
- At the time, the universal written language was art.
- So she finds natural materials around her to paint him a picture in case he returns.
- She renders an animal she is tracking,
- hoping this will offer a clue about the direction she is traveling in the future.
- Our ancestors used natural materials to create pictorial representations of their reality.
- Here is an actual cave painting from around 30,000 years ago,
- found preserved deep inside Chauvet cave in France.
- Similar renderings are found in the caves of Spain as well.
- A common theme among these ancient paintings are animal forms as well as the human hand.
- Perhaps as a signature, a story or a ritual calling.
- When Bob returns to the waterfall,
- he finds her painting and proceeds towards the river where he thinks
- she might be.
- When he arrives, he does not find her.
- Though he finds a sign that she here before.
- He decides to paint her a picture, explaining where he is going next.
- which is half-way up the river towards the setting sun.
- He has little time to paint the picture as night is approaching.
- Therefore, he needs a fast way to visualise his message.
- He thinks about it for a moment,
- and realises his message only contains three distinct mental objects...
- middle, river, west.
- So he decides to use simplified pictures to represent them.
- For river he draws a symbol which resembles its natural form,
- known as a pictogram,
- which is a drawing that resembles the physical object it represents.
- Pictograms are an important step in the evolution of writing.
- Here is a ceremonial slate palet found in Egypt,
- dated before 3,000bc. The surrounding scene shows a struggle between civilised humans
- and the wild and ferocious animals.
- However, it is difficult to draw pictures of abstract concepts,
- such as calm, old, dangerous,
- or in Bob's case, middle.
- For this he draws a line with a box over the middle.
- It represents "half-way".
- This is known as an ideogram, or a conceptual picture of an abstract idea.
- Here is an example of the same symbol
- on an ancient chinnese bronze inscription.
- For the idea of West, he decides on a picture of the setting sun.
- Now he does something interesting.
- He combines his individual symbols in turns of their meaning,
- to create a message.
- Meaning plus meaning equals new meaning.
- He leaves this in hope of Alice finding it.
- Some of the earliest artifacts of this symbolic merging
- are found in ancient Mesopotamia, now modern Irak.
- Home of the Summerians.
- This is the birthplace of many of the world's earliest civilisations.
- Here we find clay accounting tablets,
- which are some of the oldest written documents ever found.
- Some dating before 3,000bc.
- The rectangular tablets record the payments in cattle,
- shipments of cattle to shepperds for fattening,
- and gifts of cattle as an offering.
- Notice that instead of drawing a picture of ten sheep,
- they draw a symbol representing "ten",
- using small notches, and another symbol representing sheep or donkey,
- meaning simply 10 sheep.
- We call this proto-writing.
- Finally, Alice returns to the base of the river
- and finds Bob's message.
- She interprets the meaning correctly,
- half-way, west, down the river.
- So, she marches down the river towards the setting sun
- and eventually they finally meet.
- Over time, Bob learns to speak Alice's language,
- allowing them to use the same oral language to communicate shared concepts and ideas.
- This gives them an idea.
- The root of a more powerful written language.
- It starts with something very simple, writting her name.
- She disassociates the sound from the picture.
- For her name, Alice, Alice, AAlice.
- She combines the mathematical symbol for A and the picture for Ice, Al Ice.
- Notice her name has nothing to do with the individual symbols.
- Sound plus sound equals new meaning.
- This is known as the Rebus principle.
- A great example of this was found in Egypt along the Nile river.
- Dated to aroung 3,100bc it contains some of the earliest hieroglyphic insciptions ever found.
- The Narmer palet depicts the Egyptian pharaoh, Narmer.
- On the back we see him to the left of a kneeling prisoner,
- who is about to be struck down by Narmer,
- who we see standing tall wearing a crown.
- What we are looking for is on the other side.
- Between the two bovine heads at the top
- we see an inscription of his name.
- It is written as a fish and a chisel.
- Which translated to Nar Mer
- Two sounds separated from the pictures together giving new meaning.
- A key development in the history of written language.
- But before they could advance towards what we know of as an alphabet,
- something had to happen.
- They needed to save time.
Be specific, and indicate a time in the video:
At 5:31, how is the moon large enough to block the sun? Isn't the sun way larger?
Have something that's not a question about this content?
This discussion area is not meant for answering homework questions.
Share a tip
When naming a variable, it is okay to use most letters, but some are reserved, like 'e', which represents the value 2.7831...
Have something that's not a tip or feedback about this content?
This discussion area is not meant for answering homework questions.
Discuss the site
For general discussions about Khan Academy, visit our Reddit discussion page.
Flag inappropriate posts
Here are posts to avoid making. If you do encounter them, flag them for attention from our Guardians.
- disrespectful or offensive
- an advertisement
- low quality
- not about the video topic
- soliciting votes or seeking badges
- a homework question
- a duplicate answer
- repeatedly making the same post
- a tip or feedback in Questions
- a question in Tips & Feedback
- an answer that should be its own question
about the site