Stone Age Language?

The Daily Science Update for Friday was Stone Age Art Holds Hints of Language. The source article (from the Guardian) discusses the abstract symbols found next to cave art and in other places, and suggestions that they might have some kind of meaning.

One annoying feature of these symbols is that people havn't bothered to photograph them much. As such, have a picture of the entrance to the Cueva de las Monedas.

Before we get too exited, however, note the following from the Guardian article:

Von Petzinger and Nowell remain cautious, however. “We cannot use the ‘L’ or ‘W’ words yet,” says Nowell. “This is not writing as we know it or language as we understand it. However, in these caves we are looking at the patterning of symbols, and if we can unravel that, we can get to their meaning.”

(Where “‘L’ or ‘W’ words” are ‘language’ and ‘writing’.) Now that you’ve hopefully read that article, we can begin Thomas’. After he introduces the finds, he says:

The problem is that if these previously overlooked patterns do represent some form of writing, then they appear “25,000 years earlier” than when researchers believed writing originated. Some of the cave markings are supposedly 30,000 years old.

I’m not sure, however, why this is a ‘problem.’ So, humans could communicate using abstract symbols earlier than we thought? Given that this knowledge has to spread across the world with migrating humanity it may well be much older even than that, as is suggested in the article. Truly, this is a terrible problem for evolution.

However, to the young Earth creationists at the ICR the more-than-6000-years date is a problem. We’ll get to that shortly. First:

But Scripture indicates that the very first humans were able to read and write. Adam may have even signed his own name at the end of his written portion of Genesis, recorded as “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”

Because that’s totally a ‘signature’. The reference for this is Henry Morris’ New Defender’s Study Bible, which makes this claim in the annotation for Genesis 5:1. Which is stupid, because that line is actually the first sentence of one of those horrible genealogies, this time recounting the (earlier) descendants of Adam. The most parsimonious explanation is that this is the authors way of telling you that, and not that this was Adam’s ‘signature’. The annotation goes on to claim that this is where Noah picked up the pen, with Genesis 6:9 (“These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”) being his signature, rather than another list header. Again, it’s stupid. Moving right along…

But it isn’t necessary to wait for cave art studies to discern that ancient people were the same as modern people in terms of language and art. This follows from the Bible. And from that reliable record, one can also obtain a date correction for the Ice Age that shortens it from 10,000 to 2,500,000 years ago to about 3,400 to 4,400 years ago.

A to-scale version of Brian Thomas' biblical timescaleThese are the generations of Brian Thomas…

Or in other words, that’s the end of the article – but there’s more to talk about. That weird date adjustment? Brian points us to an Acts & Facts article by him and Frank Sherwin (which I believe we’ve seen before linked from somewhere else) that contains a chart showing geological time verses his ‘biblical history’.

It’s a fairly bad chart. For one, it’s not to scale – I’ve taken the time to redraw it to scale. Click the image at right to expand. I couldn’t get the more recent stuff in – the ‘everything since’ header is actually three items in Brian’s table. I’d have done a smaller picture for them, but the scale problems would be even more pronounced. He divides the Cenozoic up into three divisions – the Tertiary, the Pleistocene and the Holocene – but the Pleistocene was ~145 times longer than the Holocene, and the Pleistocene itself was only around a thirtieth of the entire Cenozoic. In other words, for every pixel high my Holocene section would be, I would need 4000+ pixels for the whole diagram. So I didn’t bother.

While the geologic times on the left are taken from Wikipedia and are thus more-or-less correct, the biblical ones are only roughly estimated from Brian’s table. A further disclaimer: Brain’s diagram did not include the Hadean, and only went back an ambiguous degree into the Archean. The reason I bring this up is that we have almost no rocks from the Hadean, and fewer and fewer the further back you go into the history of the Earth.

Nevertheless, it’s quite funny that Brian’s diagram would show the peaceful ‘Pre-Flood’ period as contributing more to the geologic column than the entire flood, and far more than the “Post-Flood Residual Catastrophes”. Or the ice age, for that matter, though we’ll have to note that there have been a number of ice ages over time and the one he’s talking about is only the most recent. I’ve never actually seen how creationists explain, say, the Karoo ice age – which in Brian’s diagram occurred somewhere during the Flood.

So, Brian’s proposed chronology is clearly stupid also, but what about his ice age dates specifically?

The ~2500 B.C. date commonly given by young Earth creationists for the Flood – chosen by biblical literalist necessity, I might add – is unfortunate in that it’s a few thousand years into recorded history. So far in that history is getting quite well recorded, with dates able to be calibrated to solar eclipses etc. If there truly was a Global Flood which destroyed all and killed everyone except for a small handful, then the existence of empires that took records that can be proven to be much older then four and a half thousand years precludes it from having taken place nearly as recently. Empires don’t just appear from nothing: the population of the world would take some time to rise from the 8 on the Ark to an amount that could sustain enough Egyptians and Chinese to build a time machine and go back in time a couple of thousand years and set up shop like nothing happened. Having an ice age end only in Exodus only exacerbates the problem.

And a thousand years simply is not enough time for even a single glaciation, let alone the repeat events we know to have occurred. Glaciations, it might be added, that otherwise appear to line up with changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun. A single ice age, from “3,400 to 4,400 years ago” simply does not make sense, nor does it explain the observed evidence.

That will be all.

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4 thoughts on “Stone Age Language?

  1. Whilst I haven’t had a chance to look at this latest research, it does seem interesting. Which is one of the things that irritates me about creationism. There’s a fascinating tale to be told here, but its obfuscated just so they can cry “God.”

    A few years back, for example, some bloke had decided that he knew what these symbols meant. Apparently they are what you see if you get high on a particular herb, indicating that cave art might be the result of shamanism, as it is in modern day Australia.

    However, that idea has fallen out of favour and the notion there might be patterns to the markings opens up a whole realm of possibilities.

    But are any of these interesting implications mentioned? Nope, just that its all wrong (and it gives no real reason for why its all wrong. Normally at least they provide a semblance of an argument, here it’s just “science…..GOD!”).

    Also, where is my Pleiocene?

  2. YECs are totally shameless in how they repeatedly lie about one ‘single rapid Ice Age’. Which isn’t even Biblical.

    Sensuous Curmudgeon blogged about the same ICR blog (though the title wrongly referred to AiG).

  3. As a Christian I must say that the more I read about YEC the more I think it is genuinely damaging to Christianity in general. It doesn’t help the Kingdom when our faith is portrayed as anti-intellectual and, frankly, ridiculous. To argue that the “toledoth” is Adam’s signature is absurd and the commentary you linked is even more ridiculous. It says “Since Adam (and only Adam) could have personal knowledge of all the events in Genesis 2, 3 and 4, it is reasonable to conclude that this section was originally written by him. Genesis 5:1a is thus Adam’s signature at its conclusion.”

    But does that mean that the beginning of Genesis 1 is literally hand written by God because Adam wasn’t there yet?

    AH!

    • I can see how it would be annoying, yes. And the strange interpretations of scripture by these ‘biblical literalists’ can’t help either.

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