The first signs Unlocking the mysteries of the world's oldest symbols

Genevieve Von Petzinger

Book - 2016

"Archaeologist Genevieve von Petzinger looks past the horses, bison, ibex, and faceless humans in the ancient paintings and instead focuses on the abstract geometric images that accompany them. She offers her research on the terse symbols that appear more often than any other kinds of figures-- signs that have never really been studied or explained until now"--

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Subjects
Genres
Travel writing
Published
New York : Atria Books 2016.
Edition
First Atria books hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
ix, 307 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages [271]-286) and index.
ISBN
9781476785493
147678549X
Main Author
Genevieve Von Petzinger (author)
Review by Choice Reviews

European Upper Paleolithic cave art, paintings, engravings, and carvings are fascinating in their complexity, inviting awe and speculation. Self-proclaimed renowned archaeologist von Petzinger records her voyage of discovery through a number of important cave art sites. Along the way, she registers a fair amount of well-deserved awe at the art, touches lightly on past interpretations, and adds her own ideas on how this art might be interpreted. These boil down to her catalogue of 32 geometric signs that she has observed in her travels and that, she suggests, reoccur from site to site. These artistic symbols indicate for her that Upper Paleolithic humans not only possessed fully "modern" language but also used cave art to express additional symbolic meaning, which may not be fully understood today. The extensive bibliography is well footnoted, and the book is well illustrated with black-and-white and color illustrations. The volume will find many interested readers in a wide selection of libraries. Suitable for undergraduate readers in colleges and universities; advanced researchers should perhaps wait for the author's more scholarly publications. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General and lower-division undergraduate libraries.--R. B. Clay, University of KentuckyR. Berle ClayUniversity of Kentucky R. Berle Clay Choice Reviews 54:06 February 2017 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Written from a scientific and personal perspective, this work by Canadian paleoanthropologist von Petzinger allows readers to follow the author's scientific method, the pursuit of data, and her own impressions. In 2015, von Petzinger was selected as a TED senior fellow and presented a TED Talk titled, "Why Are These 32 Symbols Found in Ancient Caves All Over Europe," addressing her research into the cognitive and evolutionary importance of abstract geometric images in Paleolithic rock art, personal adornment, and portable art. The author's style adds immensely to the enjoyment of the book. Although the meanings of the suite of 32 abstract geometric symbols remain a mystery, that they are consistently repeated among archaeological sites separated by geography and time is strongly suggestive of the power of conceptual thought. Von Petzinger's findings are also significant for comprehending the origins of symbolic thinking and its timing with the appearance of anatomically modern humans in the paleoanthropological record. VERDICT An exceptional read that should capture the imagination of anyone fascinated by time, humanity, and prehistory.—John Dockall, Austin, TX [Page 93]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Archaeologist Genevieve von Petzinger looks past the horses, bison, ibex, and faceless humans in the ancient paintings and instead focuses on the abstract geometric images that accompany them. She offers her research on the terse symbols that appear more often than any other kinds of figures--signs that have never really been studied or explained until now"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Offers an examination of the recurring abstract geometric images that accompany the figurative cave art of Ice Age humans, delving into the mystery of the possible meaning of these symbols, suggesting that they may point to abstract thought and expression.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A renowned archaeologist takes readers on an Indiana Jones-esque adventure from the open-air rock art sites of northern Portugal to a remote cave in Spain as she cracks the code on the first form of graphic communication, in a significant work of evolutionary ancestry that is part travel journal, part popular science and part personal narrative.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

One of the most significant works on our evolutionary ancestry since Richard Leakey’s paradigm-shattering Origins, The First Signs is the first-ever exploration of the little-known geometric images that accompany most cave art around the world—the first indications of symbolic meaning, intelligence, and language.Imagine yourself as a caveman or woman. The place: Europe. The time: 25,000 years ago, the last Ice Age. In reality, you live in an open-air tent or a bone hut. But you also belong to a rich culture that creates art. In and around your cave paintings are handprints and dots, x’s and triangles, parallel lines and spirals. Your people know what they mean. You also use them on tools and jewelry. And then you vanish—and with you, their meanings.Join renowned archaeologist Genevieve von Petzinger on an Indiana Jones-worthy adventure from the open-air rock art sites of northern Portugal to the dark depths of a remote cave in Spain that can only be reached by sliding face-first through the mud. Von Petzinger looks past the beautiful horses, powerful bison, graceful ibex, and faceless humans in the ancient paintings. Instead, she’s obsessed with the abstract geometric images that accompany them, the terse symbols that appear more often than any other kinds of figures—signs that have never really been studied or explained until now.Part travel journal, part popular science, part personal narrative, von Petzinger’s groundbreaking book starts to crack the code on the first form of graphic communication. It’s in her blood, as this talented scientist’s grandmother served as a code-breaker at Bletchley. Discernible patterns emerge that point to abstract thought and expression, and for the first time, we can begin to understand the changes that might have been happening inside the minds of our Ice Age ancestors—offering a glimpse of when they became us.