Emojis – those cute little pictograms that were once made from letters, numbers and punctuation marks – have become so common and accepted that kids are now being amazed and embarrassed by text messages from their grandparents that are all emojis. It turns out the practice of making emoticons from text dates back to at least the 1600s, but the practice of using pictures to send messages dates back far longer. Archeologists in Israel discovered a 120,000-year-old bone from an extinct auroch – the massive ancestor of modern cows – which has markings carved on one side that are not butcher marks but intentional engravings, making this possibly the oldest form of messaging ever found. Is it a smiley or a frown?
“The researchers also state that the engravings were produced by a person who performed the work with his right hand (according to the direction of the engraving). It is important to note that prehistoric populations were mostly right-wing - 90%. The article further claims that "all the cuts have the same depth and shape and all end in the same direction, implying the same subsequent movement. This may indicate that the engravings were produced by the same person, one after the other, in sequence."
In a press release announcing their paper published in Quaternary International, archeologists from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and other universities describe their discovery and analysis of an auroch bone fragment in an open-air Middle Paleolithic site at Nesher Ramla in Israel. Using 3-D imaging and microscopic analysis, they described how a human carved deep curved lines in the bone with flint 120,000 years ago. The lines range in length from 1.5 to 1.7 inches long and the researchers agree that they took a great deal of effort to carve, indicating that they were not scrapes from butchering the auroch. (Pictures here.)
"The bone was placed in a small circular anthropogenic concentration consisting of several items. But we can assume that the choice was actually intentional and perhaps related to the status of the animal that hunted at the site, similar to the phenomenon observed in Pale Indian groups where there was a spiritual connection between the hunters and their hunting."
While other scholars agree that the Middle Paleolithic emojis were made 120,000 years ago, they don’t all agree that they’re the oldest pictorial messages ever. A human-etched Indonesian clam shell has an estimated but unconfirmed age between 430,000 and 540,000. The researcher agree this aruoch bone sketch is definitely the oldest ever found in the Levant (the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia) and it has “major implications for our knowledge concerning the emergence and early stages of the development of hominin symbolic behavior.”
What was the emoji message? Happy birthday? Send more aurochs? Parent coming? WTF?