Researchers have finally decoded mysterious messages written alongside ice age cave drawings.
Archaeologists have long suspected that the dots, dashes, and Y’s accompanying ancient drawings in more than 600 European caves may carry underlying messages but have failed to decipher them. As a result, the ice age “proto-writing” has remained a mystery.
However, recent findings indicate that the markings represent a primitive lunar calendar system highlighting animals’ reproductive cycles.
“We’re able to show that [ice age hunter-gatherers], who left a legacy of spectacular art in the caves of Lascaux [in France] and Altamira [in Spain], also left a record of early timekeeping that would eventually become commonplace among our species,” said Paul Pettitt, an archeologist at Durham University.
One self-described “person off the street” became obsessed with studying these enigmatic cave symbols. For the past seven years, Bennett Bacon, a furniture restoration specialist, has scoured the British Library, amassing as much data as possible and looking for repeating patterns.
Bacon told The Dallas Express that he is primarily interested in the etymology of “writing and number systems.” One day, he realized that the “Y” markings, consisting of a line originating from two separate lines, may represent “giving birth.”
Bacon contacted Pettitt, who later said he was “glad he took it seriously” when Bacon shared his hypothesis with him. After further exploration of the subject, Pettitt, Bacon, and four other research colleagues published their hypothesis in a 2020 paper in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.
Once they uncovered the meaning behind the “Y” symbol, they were able to decipher the meaning behind the dots and dashes and subsequently published their findings in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal on January 5, 2023.
“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,” Pettitt told BBC.
Bacon said it was “surreal” to gradually unravel the messages left by hunter-gatherers.
“[Ancient hunter-gatherers were] a lot more like us than we had previously thought,” said Bacon. “These people, separated from us by many millennia, are suddenly a lot closer.”
The “proto-writing” system discovered within the European caves is believed to predate cuneiform, the written language of ancient Mesopotamia, by at least 10,000 years.
Bacon told The Dallas Express that everyone, including those outside academia, should follow their curiosity and find where it leads.
“If people are interested in a subject, then they should pursue it; knowledge belongs to everyone.”