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SignBase: Creating a database for abstract motives in the Upper Palaeolithic
Christian Bentz  1, *@  , Ewa Dutkiewicz  2, *@  
1 : DFG Center for Advanced Studies Words, Bones, Genes, Tools & Department of General Linguistics, University of Tübingen
2 : Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, University of Tübingen
* : Auteur correspondant

In Palaeolithic art, abstract motives - often referred to as “signs” - are extremely abundant. They appear in parietal as well as mobile art. Many researchers proposed interpretations for the abstract motives in parietal art (e.g. Breuil 1952; Clottes and Lewis-Williams 1998; Leroi-Gourhan 1965; Sauvet and Wlodarczyk 1995; von Petzinger 2016), but there are fewer studies on mobile objects (e.g. Hahn 1986; Marshack 1991), although the “signs” often constitute the majority of the assemblages of motives (see Vialou 1986).

SignBase is a project at the University of Tübingen, harnessing the wealth of abstract motives on mobile art of the Swabian Jura in particular (Dutkiewicz 2017; Dutkiewicz and Conard 2017; Dutkiewicz, et al. 2017), but also extending to the European Upper Palaeolithic in general. Currently, more than 500 objects (mainly Aurignacien, Gravettien), carrying several thousand abstract motives, are registered in SignBase. Our aim is to create an openly available interface, as well as developing classification algorithms that will allow us to study the “signs” geographically and chronologically. Furthermore, while any inference about their meaning is inevitably speculative, information-theoretic analyses can shed light on the evolution of their information encoding potential, and compare it to later graphical behaviour such as early written language.

 

Breuil, Abbé Henri
1952 Quatre cent siècles d'art pariétal. Les cavernes ornées de l'age du renne. Fernand Windels, Montignac.

 Clottes, Jean and David Lewis-Williams
1998 The Shamans of Prehistory. Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves. Harry N. Abrams, New York.

 Dutkiewicz, Ewa
 2017 Markierungen, Muster und Symbole im Schwäbischen Aurignacien. Dissertation, Abteilung Ältere Urgeschichte und Quartärökologie, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen.

Dutkiewicz, Ewa and Nicholas J. Conard
2017 The symbolic language of the Swabian Aurignacian as reflected in the material culture from Vogelherd Cave (South-West Germany). In L'art au quotidien. Objets ornées du Paléolithique supérieur. Actes du colloque international Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, 16-20 juin 2014, edited by J.-J. Cleyet-Merle, J.-M. Geneste and E. Man-Estier, pp. 149-164. vol. numéro spécial 2016. PALEO, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac.

 Dutkiewicz, Ewa, Sibylle Wolf and Nicholas J. Conard
2017 Early symbolism in the Ach and the Lone valleys of southwestern Germany. Quaternary International.

 Hahn, Joachim
1986 Kraft und Aggression. Die Botschaft der Eiszeitkunst im Aurignacien Süddeutschlands? Verlag Archaeologia Venatoria, Tübingen.

 Leroi-Gourhan, André
1965 Préhistoire de l'art occidental. L'art et les grandes civilisations. Mazenod, Paris.

 Marshack, Alexander
1991 The Roots of civilization. The cognitive beginnings of man's first art, symbol and notation. Revised and Expanded. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

 Sauvet, Georges and André Wlodarczyk
1995 Eléments d'une grammaire formelle de l'art pariétal paléolithique. L'Anthropologie 99(2/3):193-211.

 Vialou, Denis
1986 L'art des grottes en Ariège magdalénienne. XXIIème supplément à Gallia-Préhistoire, Paris.

 von Petzinger, Genevieve
2016 The First Signs. Unlocking the Mysteries of the World's oldest Symbols. Atria Paperback, New York.

 


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