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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Art Predates Written Language

Paleolithic cave painting of bisons
in Altamira cave, Spain
The intriguing thing about mankind is that art has originated tens of thousand of years before the development of written language.

Human beings have been making cave paintings since the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 years ago. Several cave paintings have been discovered in Europe, Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia. The diversity of locations in which these cave paintings have been discovered indicates that artists, who were living in tribal societies in different parts of the world and could not have had any communication with each other, were for unknown reasons struck by a passion for painting in approximately the same period of time and they gave birth to cave art.

The origin of written language, on the other hand, is a relatively recent phenomena. Archeologists have found evidence which indicates that the art of writing was developed between 6000 and 3500 years ago in Ancient Sumer (in Mesopotamia), the Indus Valley Civilization (in the northwestern regions of South Asia), Easter Island, and Central Europe and Southeastern Europe. Some of these ancient writings on clay tablets, which have been deciphered by archaeologists, contain information related to signs, maps, and mathematical data on the transactions of traders or government officials. The kind of written language that can enable writers to compose stories, poems, and philosophical texts came into being only in the last 3000 years.

Why does human art predate human written language by almost 37000 years? The archaeologists and historians are unable to provide a definite answer to this question. But the primordial nature of art proves one important point—man was an artistic animal tens of thousands of years before he became a rational animal. To have rational thoughts a man needs a minimum level of vocabulary; languages with sufficiently large number of words were developed in the last 3000 years—before that man could not have been a rational animal and yet he was an artist.

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