• Emma Kay Bleakley

Caving into txt spk


When Apple announced their ISO 12.1 update they added 70 new emojis. Thousands of over 50s across the country shrank in dread at being assaulted with weird little pictures from their nearest and dearest. But how do you feel if I say, the kids are right?


Scientist Genevieve von Petzinger explains in her TED talk that the use of geometric signs (emojis) is as old as the Ice Age! That’s right, emojis are 30,000 years old. To find the first examples of writing and painting, Dr von Petzinger crawled for over 300 hours, down 52 caves all over France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. She and her husband (who was her photographer for the expedition) discovered numerous new geometric signs. Putting all the signs together, Dr von Petzinger discovered, that other than a few unique signs, the same 32 were drawn all over Europe.

Like emojis, these signs followed fashion. Some signs were popular at the beginning and then fell out of fashion, while others were “updates” and appeared much newer. Some signs were seen over and over again, in sites, thousands of miles apart. Others seemed to be a more local dialect and were only seen in a small handful of caves in the same areas. These signs must have been a form of language, with meanings that were understood by people who lived apart over great distances. This makes these signs the first form of mass communication and older than the first written languages, which are about 4,500 years old.


Dr von Petzinger’s next task is to try and decipher what these symbols mean. Unlike our modern emojis, these early geometric shapes are not as easy to understand. But then again, we all got the chocolate ice-cream emoji wrong!

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