Genevieve von Petzinger is a PhD student studying European Ice Age rock art (10,000–40,000 years ago) at the University of Victoria in Canada. Genevieve’s previous research in France included creating the first full typology of abstract rock art (30 distinct signs have been identified to date), and building the largest database of geometric imagery in the world (146 sites with over 5,000 separate images). She found that many of the signs remained in use for over 20,000 years, and appeared throughout a broad geographic region. This continuity suggests the signs were being used with purpose and were meaningful to their creators. It also implies that this could be a very early form of graphic communication. Genevieve’s current work includes expanding her database to incorporate all other Ice Age rock art sites in Europe, and exploring the cognitive and symbolic capacity of our distant ancestors.
I'm passionate about my research! I am very curious about when our ancestors started tapping into their full "human potential", and I study the earliest examples of Ice Age art looking for answers...
What does it mean to be human? What is it about our species that sets us apart from every other living creature past and present on this planet? The short answer is our creative impulse, our ability to perceive life in an abstract, symbolic manner, and our desire to communicate these ideas to others. But where did this urge come from and how long ago did it start? The "creative explosion" seems to have begun almost 100,000 years ago in Africa with jewellery and decorated portable objects. Rock art appears in several parts of the world around 40,000 years ago, and is seen to be one of the best indicators of symbolic thought. I study the geometric signs found in nearly all European Ice Age rock art sites, and I believe that the abstract nature of these symbols could be the key to figuring out where this practice was 'invented', as well as helping us to understand how information was transmitted across space and time.
Ancient rock art, the Ice Age, cognitive evolution
15:15 Posted: Mar 2012
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