Prehistory, which occurred about 30000 BC, is the time before
written records appeared. However, since that time, early people found the need
for communication. The early ways used for communicating information by those
early people were most probably by sounds and gestures. Experts who study
language and prehistoric ways of life think that language developed gradually
and began at first as an imitation of sounds in nature, such as the barking of
certain animals and the howling of the wind.
The first steps towards written language were paintings and
drawings, also known as paleolithic art, the earliest
art. This occurred during the late Paleolithic or Old Stone Age period.
Prehistoric artists began to use a series of pictures to tell a story, such as
the story of a good hunting trip or a violent storm. Gradually, people developed
a system of small pictures that stood for most common objects and ideas. Such a
system is known as pictographic writing.
Drawings and paintings of animals on the walls of caves
apparently played a part in religious rituals, and they were believed to possess
great magical powers.
The Sumerians were the first to develop pictographic writing,
about 3500 BC. The vocabulary, grammar, and syntax of the Sumerian language do not appear to be
related to those of any other known language. This oldest language was written
in cuneiform script. Its earliest records date from about 3000 BC; after about
2000 BC it was no longer spoken, but it continued in use as a literary language
until cuneiform writing died out (circa 1st century BC). Pictographic writing
worked well for familiar things, but people had difficulty writing new or
unusual words. Gradually, they learned to make each symbol represent a sound
instead of an object or idea. As a result, they could write any word in the spoken language. After language developed, people exchanged
news chiefly by word of mouth. Runners carried spoken messages over long
distances and some people, generally the native Americans, used drumbeats, fires
and smoke signals to communicate with other people who understood the codes they
used. Humans are not the only creatures that communicate; many other animals
exchange signals and signs that help them find food, migrate, or reproduce.
Writing ranked second only to speech among the most early inventions in
communication. It enabled people to exchange messages over long distances and
they could be kept for later use. With the invention of writing, prehistoric
times ended and the period of written story began.
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