Some of the oldest symbols and graphical images are found in the Lascaux Caves, a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old. They primarily consist of images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time.
Symbols have survived the test of time. While driving to a meeting today, I realized just how much we still rely on symbols as a language. Yes, we have evolved past our Paleolithic days, but isn’t it funny the use of symbols to tell words or give directions still exist even today?
We are surrounded by symbols and the use of symbols to understand basic directions and instructions. What made me think of this was when I had pulled up to a traffic light and on the ground around me I noticed an array of symbols.
All kinds of shapes and sizes, and even in different colors. Each representing a set of complex instructions and information yet displayed out in a pictogram image or symbol. The city is installing new traffic lights and expanding the roadway, and the survey crew had just come through and used colored spray paints to leave information and instructions for the new in line – the construction crews.
Contained in a few strokes as possible was a wealth of information. Information which would guide the next set of people through as to exactly what was going on and what was to be expected of them. At it’s core, is this not what treasure symbols are to use today?
At one time someone came through an area and left marking as to what was going on, who was there, what was to be expected and how to go about it and here before my eyes are the same sort of symbols. Yes, the are not pointing to gold, but you can bet they are detailing copper wires below, or priceless fiber lines with a warning not to cut such lines lest all hell break loose. I thought to myself – how ironic that symbology is as valid today as it was 1,000 5,000 or even 17,000 years ago.
Each curve, dodge or squiggle has a meaning and even though each hand that placed the symbols would make them subtly different, those coming in behind would clearly understand the meanings and directions.
The people coming behind today are the construction crews, engineers and such, but none the less they are versed in this “secret symbol” language which provides all they need to know.
It still amazes me how much we still use symbols, pictograms and glyphs to convey stories, meaning and instructions. Who knows, maybe some ancient symbols we wonder about today are erection instructions of which stone to stack where, versus “find gold here”? No one really knows, that is why research and trial and error are paramount in symbology.
But how amazing and simple it is we can still communicate very complex instructions though a minimal of symbols.
Take the photo below. This one photo conveys depth, route and the exact lines of what is hidden from sight below and it accomplish such with minimal strokes. Symbols are amazing and just may convey more than we ever imagined! What say you?