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The Beginnings of Libraries: to 10,000 BCE

Let's explore early forms of information storage and communication.

Thousands of years ago, humans began recording information. However it's difficult to identify exactly when decorations on rock became systematic patterns containing representations of information. The Blombos Ocher Plaque is a great example. Dating to around 75,000 BCE in South Africa, this stone contains clearly organized markings. Photo below courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, Chip Clark.

Blombos Ocher Plaque Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

The oldest known mathematical artifacts were tally sticks containing notches. The Wolf bone dating to 30,000 BCE contained 55 marks placed on a bone. Known as the Lebombo bone, a tally stick containing 29 distinct notches was found in Swaziland dating to 35,000 BCE. Later, tokens were used for counting.

Cave Paintings

Lascaux Caves Wikimedia Commons Peter80 CC-SADuring prehistoric times, early humans used natural pigments to decorate rock walls and caves. Ochres is a gold or light yellow-brown color derived from naturally tinted clay containing mineral oxides. Iron oxides come in a range of color from yellow, orange, and red to brown and black. Other pigments such as hematite, manganese oxide, and charcoal were also used.

Cave painting have also been found in Africa dating back to 25,000 BCE, those in Australia as much as 40,000 years ago, and painting in India in excess of 100,000 years.

Earliest European cave drawings have been traced to 35,000 years ago. These Paleolithic cave paintings didn't appear in living areas, instead they may have served as a means of communication or were used for ceremonies. The themes often include wild animals such as horses, bison, and deer.

The oldest stone messages in Australia date to 20,000 BCE. These cyclons are stone that show a very simple form of communication.

The earliest maps date back to around 12,000 BCE in the Ukraine. The map incribed on a mammoth tush showed dwellings along a river.

These caves were places that people gathered to enjoy or use these images. Could these visual records be the earliest move toward the creation of libraries?

The image (by Peter80) shows the cave painting in Lascaux, France around 15,000 BCE.

Learn more about the Lascaux cave at the official website.


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