Deciphering Upper Paleolithic (European): Part 1. The Basic Graphematics—Summary of Discovery Procedures

I propose a preliminary and tentative decipherment of a European Upper Paleolithic protolanguage, UP(E), which crystallized during the Magdalenian period, ca. 15,000 to 10,000 BC. Many attempts have been made to decode the geometric signs in the cave and portable art of Upper Paleolithic Europe. It appears that a subset of these signs have the capacity to, and in fact did, constitute a protolanguage.

Building on the symbolic studies of Alexander Marshack on Upper Paleolithic symbolism and Marija Gimbutas on Old European Neolithic symbolism, and applying the structuralist semantic techniques of A-J. Greimas, it is possible to detect a complementarity set of four basic sign-clusters (semantic fields) which constitute UP(E).

UP(E) appears to consist of ‘gesturewords’ or ‘motion-form words,’ which refer to elemental processes of nature, both the natural environment without and the psychic or spiritual realm within. The four UP(E) sign clusters appear to signify: "center inward," "contact irrupting spirit energies," "sprout, grow and branch," and "flow." Syntactic pairings of UP(E) signs can generate ritual formulae and narratives of spiritual transformation (trans-formation) processes.

At a higher level, UP(E) appears to refer to personifications (divinities, goddesses and gods) that preside over these ritual and natural transformation processes. Some of the meanings of the animal and anthropomorphic images in European Upper Paleolithic art, such as Venus figurines, can be decoded using this decipherment.

In a further step, it is possible to match this preliminary grapho-semantic derivation of UP(E) against a reconstruction of primordial language (PL) stem words in Foster (1978). Assuming its validity this comparison procedure results in differentiating the four basic UP(E) semes into 24 (4X6) semes, each corresponding to a canonical geometric sign. Some fifty remaining PL words appear to signify every day social and cultural activities, including semantic fields for tool making and food preparation, foraging, childcare, and social goods (family, sexuality, wealth, territorial defense).