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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.


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

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