Why did humans start writing? What were the first things that humans wrote?
Is there any commonality amongst those first inscriptions, and how did they evolve to the writing systems we know today? By studying written forms across many languages, could we learn more about who we are as humans? Could we learn more about the balance of power between females and males? Could we even learn an unknown language faster?
I have spent the last seven years compiling and comparing many ancient written languages and symbols, going back as far as 8,600 years. If one searches dictionaries and lexicons of early written languages, a number of patterns emerge. One of the patterns is that the written forms are derived from images of things that are important to humans. Those images—depicted in a range from obvious to cryptic—help carry meaning. The relationship of image to meaning is not random.
Another pattern that emerges is a focus on female mammals, specifically the body parts of female mammals associated with reproduction. The shape of “V” has meant “female” for circa 6,400 years. Congruences across written languages between form and meaning demonstrate that female mammals were significant to early humans, perhaps because they hold the trinity: milk, offspring, and fun for males. This triumvirate drove both writing and civilization.
We know that writing started just after the domestication of animals (domestication of animals is roughly 20,000 year old, tokens which were used to account for those animals are roughly 10,000 years old, and actual writing is dated at 5,000 years old). Did tracking animals and following footprints lead to writing? Possibly. The first abstraction would be from animal to the markings the animal leaves behind. The second abstraction would be a symbol that stands for that animal, that counts that animal, that accounts for that animal.
It would seem that in the domestication of animals, humans finally understood the necessity of the male in reproduction. Forty thousand years ago megafauna disappeared around the world, and one theory is that humans killed them off because they didn’t understand that they needed to keep some animals in order to get more. When one considers that the Bible’s Noah’s Ark story is the world’s first sex education—
two by two, male and female—one discovers that re-examining and re-framing existing data with modern insight yields dramatically new perspectives. Noah’s Ark is a retelling of a portion of the The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is 2,500 years older than the Bible. We know that circa 4,500 years ago the Sumerians understood procreation, based upon this character for “seed.”
Domesticating animals caused the male to suddenly understand his role as father: “that child came from me!” That knowledge sparked the concept of ownership: My son. My woman. My field. My possessions. Writing is a form of claiming ownership: accounting is a way of taking stock of one’s possessions.
The data in this site is organized by specific languages, as well as by a cross-analysis of all major ancient written languages that have been deciphered, including: Chinese hanzi, Sumerian cuneiform, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Maya glyphs, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Russian, and more.
Major papers are Breasts, Vaginas, and Tools: Musings on the Roots of the Alphabet, ‘Meow’ is Just Another Name for Cat,’ and Letter A: From Hawk to Ox, plus a bibliography, and many databases organized by concept: Females In Chinese Script, Vaginas Depicted in Sumerian: a database, etc.
There are also phoneme worksheets for English language learners which focus on pattern, videos of my Chinese college students (I’ve taught 355 Chinese college students English in China. One of my students said, “I think you in the West think more about sex than we do in the East.” I said, “One point four billion people says you’re wrong.”), and slide shows about language that I have presented to colleges and scientific companies in China. Many papers are also translated into Chinese. Have at it.