When and where did humans develop
language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor.
More precisely, some specific features
of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language
capabilities evolved, according to a paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru
A key to this idea is that cave art is
often located in acoustic “hot spots,” where sound echoes strongly,
as some scholars have observed. Those drawings are located in deeper,
harder-to-access parts of caves, indicating that acoustics was a principal
reason for the placement of drawings within caves. The drawings, in turn, may
represent the sounds that early humans generated in those spots.
In the new paper, this convergence of
sound and drawing is what the authors call a “cross-modality information
transfer,” a convergence of auditory information and visual art that, the
authors write, “allowed early humans to enhance their ability to convey
symbolic thinking.” The combination of sounds and images is one of the
things that characterizes human language today, along with its symbolic aspect
and its ability to generate infinite new sentences.
Cave artists were thus not just
drawing impressions of the outdoors at their leisure. Rather, they may have
been engaged in a process of communication. “I think it’s very clear that
these artists were talking to one another,” Miyagawa says. “It’s a
communal effort”. (1)
Sound whirling in a fierce storm.
Snow falling on the rough ground.
Deep inside a cave, a human lies.
Being sick, ready to die.
Inside that cave, he sees the drawing
he drew when he was young.
When the sound of his voice echoed
underneath the Earth.
Fearing and being excited for the
Now he is silent. But the drawings are
For some people to view, thousands of
years from now.
A message no one – besides this man –
will ever understand.
A message seemingly lost in the haze
Until someone realizes, that this lack of message is the message itself…