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[Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history

Thanks for posting that good précis/synopsis, Peter.    Lovely to know of
another person who likes that work!
Two bits in this field of work keep enticing more thinking: 
(1) The relation between phonogram and logograms (page 21 and following in
the catalog): All four early systems have both. There are good specific
concrete details for thinking about diversity in the ways writing systems
change over time, including the diverse factors that might be involved in
change (or retention).  
(2)  The complexity of the socio-cultural contexts as writing systems first
appear (page 17 and following in the catalog):  There isn't evidence for
neat direct for "if there's X, there will be Y" kind of universal
statements.  In some cases, there appear to be X (like need for
administrative tools) and no Y (like a writing system) AND in other cases
the gap is on the other side of the conditional.  And hovering over it all
is a good measure of chicken and egg conundrums.

I'm going to fade into the lurk-work again but want to thank XMCA for the
impetus to think more about these matters as I continue to prepare to have
conversations with diverse teachers to be as they prepare for their
wonderfully diverse ECE classroom communities in this complex socio-cultural

Peg Griffin, Ph. D.
Washington, DC 20003

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
[mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Peter Smagorinsky
Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2015 6:32 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history

I've written about the Oriental Institute exhibition and web-text as follows
(Smagorinsky, P. (2011). Vygotsky and literacy research: A methodological
framework. Boston: Sense.):

Writing as Tool and Sign
People have been communicating through symbol systems for quite a long time.
The abilities to speak and use language (distinctions made by
anthropologists to refer separately to the ability to form sounds audibly
and the development of a systematic organization of sounds and symbols into
a patterned scheme of communication) have characterized both humans and
their antecedent primates since early in their evolutionary development
(Fitch, 2000) as a way to produce auditory symbols that represent objects,
ideas, actions, and other nonlinguistic referents. Researchers dispute the
point at which humans began using language, with estimates ranging from
10,000-100,000 years ago, depending on the evidence consulted (e.g.,
Atkinson, 2011; Gray & Atkinson, 2003).
	The first written symbol system was numeric and preceded linguistic
symbol systems by about four millennia. In about 7500 BCE, members of the
early Meso-potamian society began impressing numeric symbols in clay to
represent their so-cial and commercial transactions (Schmandt-Besserat,
2011). Before the appear-ance of the cuneiform and hieroglyphic linguistic
texts that first appeared between 3500 and 3200 BCE, Mesopotamian and
Egyptian people used primitive stamp and cylinder seals, i.e., round stones
that people used to make impressions in clay. Each seal was specific to an
individual or social group to "brand" their belongings as distinctively
their property; the seal thus marked an object as residing within a
particular individual or group's archival record. Mesopotamians also used
clay "envelopes" prior to the emergence of a formal script. These devices
consisted of hollow balls with small tokens sealed inside that served a
contractual role, provid-ing a form of record-keeping that led to the
recording of numbers on clay, which itself was the immediate precursor for
their cuneiform  script (Woods, 2010a).
	Subsequently, all known writing systems originated from four
independently developed scripts, a relatively new finding that revises
previous theories that saw writing originating in the Eastern Mediterranean
region and gradually spreading from there (Woods, 2010a). The most recent
data regarding writing's origins-a date that is subject to continual
revision as archeology produces new sources of evidence-indicate that the
Egypt and Mesopotamia were indeed the first societies to develop writing
systems, each created separately and without one another's influence.
Independent of these developments, and toward different cultural ends using
unique symbol systems, Chinese (1200 BCE) and Mesoamerican (1200-600 BCE)
systems followed to produce the prototypes for the remainder of the world to
	Unlike today's writing, the Mesopotamian pictographic text, like all
early forms of writing, was used exclusively to maintain economic records of
transactions among those of high status. The curators of the exhibition at
the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute that documents this
historical record (detailed in Woods, 2010a) report that about 90% of texts
recovered from Mesopotamia were administrative documents that became
necessary during a population expansion in Uruk in about 3500 BCE. This
growth produced a more complex social and trading civilization that required
a bureaucracy for its organization of goods and how they were distributed
across the stratified society's inhabitants. 
	Determining what counted as writing and what served as a precursor
requires some key distinctions. The contributors to Woods' (2010a) edited
volume define writing as a one-to-one correspondence between text and
speech. When Egyptian hieroglyphics were invented, the creators used the
rebus principle-in the English alphabet, for example, drawing an eye shape
to signify the I sound-as well as pictograms to represent specific objects.
. . . The Egyptians eventually moved to full representation, "sound by sound
and word by word," so that when one person reads a text, it sounds the same
as when another reads it. Ancient cave paintings, by contrast, do not count
as writing-different people viewing a cave painting may use different words
to tell its story. (Kott, 2011, n. p.)
	Kott (2011) further reports that to Woods (2010b), the written
scripts' use of characters and grammar represents the boundary between
prehistory and history because it enabled people to document the present and
past and thus provide a record of the evolution of their society. Serving
this historical and contemporary purpose, writing reveals each culture's
social organization and cultural thrust: its teleological ends and the
primary tool, a written script, through which its commerce is archived and
thus used as the template for new transactions. 
 	The field of comparative human cognition (Laboratory of Comparative
Human Cognition, 1978) emphasizes the manner in which tool-mediated thinking
serves and in turn helps to reproduce a culture's goals and practices and
channel them toward its sense of optimal developmental outcome. The use of
writing in Indo-European cultures as a bureaucratic means of record-keeping
for goods, labor, and production suggests much about this area as the origin
of capitalist societies. In contrast, in China and in Mesoamerica, scripts
most likely developed for religious purposes: 
In China, the social component is clearly in evidence as witnessed by the
emergent Shang state (ca. 1200 BC[E]), but writing is first attested
primarily within the context of divination-for the purpose of recording
royal divina-tions performed at the Shang court. Written on turtle shells
and ox scapulas, these inscriptions recorded the answers to queries that
were put to the gods [see Shaughnessy, 2010]. The Mesoamerican case is even
more nebulous. The earliest writing in the Americas-the undeciphered Zapotec
and Isthmi-an scripts and the first Maya writing-is essentially
commemorative with a considerable theological component, many of the glyphs
having a basis in long-established iconographic traditions and a calendrical
system of great cultural significance. . . . Further, in the
better-understood Maya case, the ad-vent of sociopolitical complexity, as
witnessed by monumental architecture and increased social stratification,
predates the first texts by several centuries. . . . These are contexts that
may suggest religious and cultural motivations for writing, rather than
administrative or economic necessities [see Palka, 2010]. (Woods, 2010b, p.
	If these scripts are indicative of their societies' sense of telos
and the use of writing to mediate development toward that end, they reveal
profoundly different understandings of the purpose of life on earth and how
to live it socially and cul-turally. In this chapter I move to a more
modern-day conception of the role of writing in society, emphasizing its
tool function and embedding writing practice in broader cultural processes
so as to understand its role in current educational prac-tice and in the
abundant settings in which writing plays a role outside school.

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+smago=uga.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu
[mailto:xmca-l-bounces+smago=uga.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Peg
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 11:07 PM
To: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history

About writing origins, Henry: There's some accessible and reliable info
through that U of Chicago Oriental Institute museum web-site I mentioned.
You can download the catalog for free - over 200 pages of good essays and
The first chapter has a good discussion about writing and other early
graphic representations from art and administrative functions.  It has a
reasonable bibliography.  Subsequent specialized chapters also carry good
documentation.  It's certainly a good start if you want to follow this up.

Peg Griffin, Ph. D.
Washington, DC 20003

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
[mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of HENRY SHONERD
Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 7:18 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history

Yes, thank you, Helen
I have a couple of questions:
1)The movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams focuses on cave drawings of Southern
France that date back 32,000 years. Writing may date back only about 5
thousand years, but I understand that writing systems begin with
pictographs, like in the caves of southern France. Is that relevant to this
2) Does oral history count as history?

I have a question 
> On Jan 14, 2015, at 2:30 PM, Peg Griffin <Peg.Griffin@att.net> wrote:
> Thanks, Helena!  It is lovely.  A while ago I had skimmed it but 
> misplaced ways to get to it for deep reading and use of it.
> Besides just liking this sort of thing, I've had some luck getting 
> teacher ed students to see contemporary cultural and language 
> diversity a little differently when they get a chance to see history 
> they might have missed out on in their prior education.
> Peg
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
> [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Helena Worthen
> Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 2:06 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Cc: 'Mikhail Munipov'
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
> And there's this:
> https://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201102/roads.of.arabia.htm
> This is a gorgeous exhibit, if it comes near you. For the text about 
> writing
> 2000-1500 BCE, scroll about half way down. The exhibit has stones, set 
> side by side, with different ancient scripts.
> Helena Worthen
> helenaworthen@gmail.com
> On Jan 13, 2015, at 7:16 PM, Peg Griffin wrote:
>> Here's a little side track:  There's a web trace of a 2010 
>> well-curated
> museum exhibit on writing from the U of Chicago Oriental Institute.
>> http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/special/writing/
>> And here are a few little outtakes:
>> 		"four instances and places in human history when writing was
> invented from scratch - in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica - 
> without previous exposure to or knowledge of writing. It appears 
> likely that all other writing systems evolved from the four systems we 
> have in our exhibition."
>> 		"the earliest cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia (today's
> Iraq), dating to about 3200 BC,"
>> 		" early Egyptian writing that includes tags and labels from
> the tombs of the first kings (about 3320 BC) as well as hieroglyphic 
> writing and other scripts from the Nile Valley."
>> 		" Chinese writing, which emerged about 1200 BC, will be
> shown on oracle bones"
>> 		" Mayan hieroglyphs from the 7th century AD will show how
> early Mesoamericans wrote."
>> 		" Long believed to have been invented in Phoenicia in about
> 1000 BC, the earliest alphabetic texts are now those found in the Sinai.
> This earliest alphabet was derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs as early 
> as
> 1800 BC, well over five hundred years earlier than had been known."
>> There are some lovely little animations about the development of 
>> cuneiform
> and one animation about a hieroglyph changing and eventually 
> appropriated for a Greek letter.
>> I love this little site and fear the day I try to open it and find U 
>> of Chicago has abandoned it. Peg
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: xmca-l-bounces+peg.griffin=att.net@mailman.ucsd.edu
>> [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+peg.griffin=att.net@mailman.ucsd.edu] On 
>> Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>> Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 9:24 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Cc: Mikhail Munipov
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
>> Actually, I think that "the more that human beings become removed 
>> from
> animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their 
> own history consciously" is near as dammit what you are looking for.
>> Engels of course lacked good information. Even in his day Vygotsky 
>> had
> poor information. In "Ape, Primitive Man and Child", "primitive" is 
> taken to mean "non-literate", as it was for Luria in his Central Asian 
> expedition, and a great deal of emphasis is put on the origins and 
> development of *writing*. But writing only appears in Egypt c. 2,000 
> BCE I think, in any case, in evolutionary time scales 5 minutes ago.
> The development of writing is nothing to do with evolution of the species.
>> Vygotsky defines primitive man as follows:
>>   "This term is commonly used, admittedly as a conventional label, to
>>   designate certain peoples of the uncivilized world, situated at the
>>   lower levels of cultural development. It is not entirely right to
>>   call these peoples primitive, as a greater or lesser degree of
>>   civilization can unquestionably be observed in all of them. All of
>>   them have already emerged from the prehistoric phase of human
>>   existence. Some of them have very ancient traditions. Some of them
>>   have been influenced by remote and powerful cultures, while the
>>   cultural development of others has become degraded.
>>   "/Primitive man, in the true sense of the term, does not exist
>>   anywhere at the present time, /and the human type, as represented
>>   among these primeval peoples, can only be called "relatively
>>   primitive." Primitiveness in this sense is a lower level, and the
>>   starting point for the historical development of human behaviour.
>>   Material for the psychology of primitive man is provided by data
>>   concerning prehistoric man, the peoples situated at the lower levels
>>   of cultural development and the comparative psychology of peoples of
>>   different cultures."(Preface, 1930, Italics in the original)
>> And from the start, this chapter is framed as "cultural development" 
>> as
> distinct from "evolutionary development." Chapter 1 on primates 
> focuses on the limited use of tools possible for apes, with the 
> implication that the cultural development around the emergence of 
> labour, i.e., the production of tools, was part of evolutionary 
> development, prior and leading up to the formation of homo sapiens 
> sapiens. There is no chapter covering the period between 2 million 
> years ago and say `00,000 years ago, where cultural and biological
formation are interacting.
>> According to Engels and others including Dewey, speech emerges
> simultaneously with tools. Dewey makes the point that a tool is not a 
> tool until its use is institutionalised, linking social, symbolic and 
> tool-using activity together.
>> Andy
>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>> -
>> --
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>> mike cole wrote:
>>> So perhaps its just my bad memory, Andy. the issues remain central. 
>>> THANKS for the appropriate links!
>>> mike
>>> On Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 4:51 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net 
>>> <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>>   There can only be two sources of this idea: Engels' "Part Played
>>>   by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man" (1876)
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1876/part-played-labour/ind
> ex.htm
>>>   and the Introduction to "Dialectics of Nature" (1883)
>>>   http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch01.htm
>>>   In the latter work, after explaining how freeing the hands by
>>>   adopting an erect gait, led to the use of tools, meaning labour,
>>>   and this led to the expansion of the brain, language and sundry
>>>   other changes, and thus eventualy the emergence of human beings as
>>>   a species. Then he says:
>>>      "With men we enter /history/."
>>>   In the earlier document, he says: "Labour begins with the making
>>>   of tools" which Engels claims happened before the formation of
>>>   modern homo sapiens, contributing to that formation rather than
>>>   being a product of the formation of modern humans, and he narrates
>>>   a story which continues from this point up to socialist revolution
>>>   as if it were one continuous story, blurring over the distinction
>>>   between evolution of the species and historical development of
>>>   culture.
>>>   The nerest we come to your quote is: "the more that human beings
>>>   become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the
>>>   more they make their own history consciously." The "narrower
>>>   sense" I presume means biological differentiation. So this could
>>>   count for what you are looking for, Mike.
>>>   Andy
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --
>>>   *Andy Blunden*
>>>   http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>>>   <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
>>>   mike cole wrote:
>>>       Dear Colleagues--
>>>       I seem to recall reading an idea, that I recall being
>>>       attributed to Engels,
>>>       that (rooughly) "more and more the laws of evolution are being
>>>       replaced by
>>>       the laws of history."
>>>       Can anyone enlighten me either as to the source of this
>>>       "quotation" or as
>>>       to the source of my own confusion in this regard?
>>>       mike
>>> --
>>> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science as an 
>>> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.