The Evolution of Text

The Ishango Bone

In progress

What were the conditions which gave rise to the production of text? One would assume that during the initial stages of this evolutionary process, namely the evolutions of text, that the production of text was a somewhat marginal or peripheral activity. Thus the second question becomes, in what manner did conditions change such that this initially marginal activity came to occupy a more and more central functional position? (originally, i.e. - once in a while, special contexts, special rituals).

If we were going to hypothesize functional answers to some of these questions one would have to begin with a functional analysis in the human complex of adaptation. Initial hypothesis - - text has a functional significance in the socio-ecological adaptation of human groups.

What is the original context in which text emerged, and what functions did the activity of producing text serve? Hypothesis -- it arose in a ritual context. Texts look like ritualized, repetitive activity marks. Hypothesis -- marking on bone served the function of partitioning, e.g. the seasons, time, persons.

The earliest form of text was not a blueprint text, but logically a storied account and ritual, perhaps a making of marks on the ground, perhaps boundary markers or emblems. Any marks made by man. The first texts were not separate like a blueprint and highly indexical, but functioned with activity and partitioned it.

Ritual and cultural transmission becomes more and more indexical. A significant step man's evolution must have been the creation of text. 50,000 years or so ago a major change took place in the evolution of man's nervous system - a sudden, radical increase in selection pressure that resulted in man as we know him today. The change may have been related to some primitive use of text.

Increasing indexicality or ability to read increasingly indexical marks is a function of a more generalized morphology at birth, the delay in development of the CNS, and the requirement for contextual support for the developing child. The system is able to store more information. The evolution of visual scanning in humans - the visual cortex is highly evolved - this highly evolved coupling mechanism is of much greater significance than simply its original function in primate tree living. We can see a tremendous increase in ability to handle detail.

By the time of the rise of the first city states the central functional role of the production and use of text is powerfully evident -- e.g. making lists of surplus, water use.

E-Mail: Laurence E. Heglar, PhD