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Scientific result | MRI | Brain
A unique interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists and researchers of NeuroSpin (GIN, Bordeaux University/CEA/CNRS) offers for the first time analysis elements of the symbolism of prehistoric traces found on ancient Paleolithic engravings. These abstract patterns are analyzed by the same brain areas than those that recognize objects and also activate a well-known left hemisphere area involved in the treatment of written language.
The earliest human graphic productions, consisting of abstract patterns engraved on a variety of media, date to the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. They are associated with anatomically modern and archaic hominins. The nature and significance of these engravings are still under question. To address this issue, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare brain activations triggered by the perception of engraved patterns dating between 540 000 and 30 000 years before the present with those elicited by the perception of scenes, objects, symbol-like characters and written words. The perception of the engravings bilaterally activated regions along the ventral route in a pattern similar to that activated by the perception of objects, suggesting that these graphic productions are processed as organized visual representations in the brain. Moreover, the perception of the engravings led to a leftward activation of the visual word form area. These results support the hypothesis that these engravings have the visual properties of meaningful representations in present-day humans, and could have served such purpose in early modern humans and archaic hominins.
Mellet E, Salagnon M, Majkic ́A, Cremona S, Joliot M, Jobard G, Mazoyer B, Tzourio-Mazoyer N, d'Errico F. (2019) Neuroimaging supports the representational nature of the earliest human engravings. Royal Soc.Open Science 6 (7) 90086 http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190086
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.