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Ancient Cave Art May Be Origin of Modern Language

Some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. 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.”

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