The Stone Age: Writing & Communication

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  • 0:04 Written Communication
  • 1:19 Proto-Writing
  • 2:26 Purposes of Writing
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

While Stone Age people might not have had the developed writing systems we have in the 21st century, our use of symbols to communicate seems to date back to this period, which you can learn more about in this lesson.

Written Communication

Many people consider the first written language to date to be about 3000 BCE, but did you know there's evidence that the first forms of written communication date all the way back to the very first period of human prehistory? This first period, the Paleolithic Age, is part of the larger Stone Age and spans a huge expanse of prehistory, from the beginning of humanity until about 12,000 years ago. These early people are famous for their cave paintings that seem to detail hunting scenes, though they also may have had religious significance. Cave paintings are the first type of recorded communication and may have led to the development of a full-fledged written language.

European Stone Age cave painting
European Stone Age cave painting

Think of it this way: when you were a toddler, you probably tried to draw what you saw around you, but since you were not very advanced, a drawing of your mom might have looked like a few lines with eyes and a smile. When you were in elementary school, you might have had more advanced drawing skills and been able to draw a round head and block-like torso, even describing your mom, saying, ''My mom has brown hair. It is long.'' Then, as a teenager or adult, your skills get even more advanced: maybe you can draw your mom in detail, capturing the color of her eyes or her hairstyle, or write about her with more vivid imagery, like ''My mom's hair is a mousey brown color, with abundant silky curls.''


Just like your written communication skills developed, so did the first people's. While they started out with basic drawings, usually of animals, their drawings seem to have been abstracted into symbols. For example, a drawing of a horse would be used in an abbreviated form as a symbol of the horse by just using the wavy line of the back. While calling this set of symbols a written language is not quite accurate, we can think of this as a type of proto-writing, or an original system of writing based on simple lines and shapes. This Stone Age symbology contained a variety of different symbols that might be familiar to us, like hands, spirals, and ovals.

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