ProjectEVINE – The Evolution of Visual INformation Encoding

Basic data

The Evolution of Visual INformation Encoding
01/01/2024 to 31/12/2028
Abstract / short description:
Language leaves no trace in the fossil record. However, an important component of the human language capacity, symbolic
combinatoriality, might have “fossilized” after all. In the Paleolithic, hominins have embarked on their journey from Africa into the rest
of the world. On their way, they have left artefacts which provide a window into their mind. Some of these bear early examples of
visual information encoding: geometric signs. In the Middle Paleolithic, when Homo neanderthalensis roamed the landscape,
evidence for geometric signs is scarce. It is not before the Middle Stone Age in Africa, typically associated with Homo sapiens, that the
first systematic industries emerge. By the time Homo sapiens arrives in Central Europe – in the Upper Paleolithic – the practice of
using stones, beads, bone fragments, and figurines as information carriers has become part of everyday life. In fact, the abundance of
geometric signs in these assemblages is only gradually coming to light via large-scale collection efforts. This project proposes to
marry the growing body of archaeological data with state-of-the-art tools from empirical linguistics to assess the Evolution of Visual
Information Encoding (EVINE) in the human lineage. To this end, statistical measures based on information theory, quantitative
linguistic laws, as well as classification algorithms need to be developed, and applied to sequences of paleolithic signs, ancient
writing, and modern writing. Two core hypotheses are to be tested: First, paleolithic signs are statistically distinct from ancient and
modern writing. Second, there was a combinatorial transition in the Upper Paleolithic of around 35 000 to 15 000 years ago. If the
latter is verified, we would witness a major step towards modern visual information encoding – 10 000 years before the advent of
ancient writing.
language, computational linguistics, archaeology

Involved staff


Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Institute of Linguistics (SfS)
Department of Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities



will be deleted permanently. This cannot be undone.