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.
Genevieve von Petzinger
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm a fiction writer and am always looking for inspiration. Ever since I saw Genevieve von Petzinger's TED talk, I knew I had to read this book. It did not disappoint. This bright young author expertly tackles the mysteries of the world's oldest symbols. The graphic communication signs painted on cave walls by our ancient ancestors beg us to ask, "What were they thinking?" and "What were they saying?" The author approaches the subject in a scientific manner, yet provides her personal thoughts into the mix. I've read several nonfiction books on paleoanthropology, but this is the first one I truly felt comfortable reading. I highly recommend this book.
I’m pleased to write a short review in praise of Genevieve von Petzinger’s book, The First Signs. The work chronicles von Petzinger’s journey across rock art sites to examine carvings, lines, dots, colors, designs, patterns, and other graphic images, some dating as far back as 40,800 years ago. This is a handsomely produced book filled with black-and-white illustrations and color plates. The author uses these drawings and photographs for the benefit of her readers, often referring to them. There are 16 nicely-written chapters which appeal not only to an educated reader interested in Paleolithic rock art but to a specialist as well. I was especially impressed by chapter 13, “The Lady of St. Germain-la-Rivère and her Mysterious Necklace,” which details a 16 thousand year old grave containing a necklace of 71 deer teeth consisting of 45 differently engraved signs. The fact that these signs were strung together in sequence (now lost) attests to very...
There's only so much data available. Modern vandals (as opposed to historic ones) have destroyed a lot of what survived to begin with. And yet Genevieve von Petzinger has established a logical, systematic narrative involving the technologies available, the artistic items that have survived, the pictorial evidence and the rites insofar as archaeology has discovered them. I don't give out five stars lightly. This book deserves every one of them. Bear in mind that she concentrates on a specific frame of time, some of the answers cannot be obtained with our limited knowledge of that time. If you want to go and actually unlock mysteries of the symbols, this book will give you one of the keys needed but you'll need to study early Australian symbols and about another 10,000 years of Eurasian (pre?)history. You won't get anywhere without this book, though.
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