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Neuroimaging supports the representational nature of the earliest human engravings

By Emmanuel Mellet, M Salagnon, A Majki, S Cremona, Marc Joliot, Gaël Jobard, Bernard Mazoyer, Nathalie Tzourio-Mazoyer, F d’Errico

Posted 07 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/464784 (published DOI: 10.1098/rsos.190086)

The earliest human graphic productions dating to the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic are associated with anatomically modern and archaic hominins. These productions, which consist of abstract patterns engraved on a variety of media, may have been used as symbols, and their emergence is thought to be associated with the evolution of the properties of the visual cortex. To test this hypothesis, 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 in the ventral route in a pattern similar to that produced 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 in contrast to random doodles, the earliest abstract graphic productions had a representational purpose for modern and archaic hominins.

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