Re: Counting

Glenn Morton (
Fri, 27 Jun 1997 22:57:35 -0500

At 09:23 PM 6/27/97 -0400, John W. Burgeson wrote:
>Came on one reference to a unique human attribute -- counting --
>in MATHEMATICAL MYSTERIES by Calvin Clawson (1996).
>Says oldest direct evidence is a baboon's thigh bone, 35 ky, and
>a wolf bone, 30 ky. Says no such evidence from Neandertal sites.
>(All thos from pg 11 of the book above).
>Just data -- you probably have all this stuff...

Actually, you made me do some more research which is always a pleasure. I,
too, was under the impression that counting didn't start until about 35,000
years ago. But I was wrong.

All of the modern knowledge of ancient counting was developed about 30 years
ago by Alexander Marshack who first began the serious study of notational
markings on bones. He wrote a book entitled, The Roots of Civilization
(1972). I had read about half of it before getting bored and stopping.
That was a mistake. On page 349 he writes:

"Even more significant, in a Neanderthal level at La Ferrassie in the
Dordogne, a bit of stone in the grave of a child was intentionally engraved
with linear sequences comparable to those in the Upper Paleolithic and to
this one [Teviec--GRM] found in the Mesolithic."

If Upper Paleolithic anatomically modern man was using scratches on bones to
count, then Neanderthal enganged in the identical behavior somewhere between
68-76,000 years ago. (for the date of this grave see Yuri Smirnov
"Intentional Human Burial: Middle Paleolithic (Last Glaciation) Beginnings,"
Journal of World Prehistory,3:2(1989), pp 199-233, p. 219)

I might add, that Marshack attempts to show that Upper Paleolithic men were
marking off the days of lunar calendars. While I agree that they were
counting, I remain very skeptical of Marshack's claim that it is lunar
calendars which are being produced. There are some technical astronomical
reasons for my rejection of Marshack's hypothesis. What they were counting
is uncertain. But before rejecting these scratches as counting, many modern
technologically primitive peoples have used exactly the same type of system
for counting.

Thanks, Burgy, for forcing me to look again at this area.


Foundation, Fall and Flood