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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:20

Video transcript

imagine alice traveled back over 50 000 years to find her distant ancestor bob now up until this time human culture was relatively unsophisticated utilizing the same primitive stone tools which went unchanged for thousands 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 developed the ability to externalize their inner thoughts they began 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 lifeblood 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 his culture has not yet developed 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 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 was here before he decides to paint her a picture explaining where he is going next which is halfway up the river towards the setting sun he has little time to paint a picture as night is approaching therefore he needs a fast way to visualize his message he thinks about it for a moment and realizes 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 palette found in egypt dated before 3000 bc the surrounding scene shows the struggle between civilized humans and the wild and ferocious animals however it's 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 halfway this is known as an ideogram or conceptual picture of an abstract idea here is an example of this same symbol on an ancient chinese bronze inscription for the idea of west he decides on a picture of the setting sun now he does something interesting he combines these individual symbols in terms 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 iraq home of the sumerians this is the birthplace of many of the world's earliest civilizations here we find clay accounting tablets which are some of the oldest written documents ever found some dating before 3000 bc the rectangular tablets record the payments in cattle shipments of cattle to shepherds 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 ten 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 halfway west down the river so she marches down 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 writing her name she disassociates the sound from the picture for her name alice alice al this she combines the mathematical symbol for all and a picture of ice all ice alice 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 around 3100 bc it contained some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found the narmer palette 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's written as a fish and a chisel which translates to nar mer narmer 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