Has there ever been documented evidence of animals other than humans making art or symbols?
Symbols look pretty easy to document. A symbol is something concrete with a meaning of its own, that also refers to something other than itself.
This sentence is not a symbol, but merely a string of signs - there is no meaning except the one that we have agreed to as our interpretation of these
signs. If I draw a cross, though, it is both a real object, a tool for killing someone, and also a reference to all manner of things Christian.
Therefore, the cross is a symbol. Unless, of course, it is the is one: +.
That is a big complication, then, You cannot tell by looking whether something is or is not a symbol. But you can often tell by behavior of the symbol
user that something enjoys "dual meaning."
Pet owners routinely report that domestic animals display individual ownership over toys. The whole idea of toy, of course, is symbolic. And, because
domestic dogs and gray wolf are the same species, we can be sure that their shared behavior is not some imitation of us, but something authentically
Both dogs and wolves play a form of "tug of war" with found wooden sticks. Who wins depends on social status, which can be verified behaviorally
(for example, who wins tug-of-war with sticks eats real food first).
Short of being a gray wolf, I cannot be certain about the meaning of the behavior, of course. But it seems much more likely than not that the stick is
both a thing-in-itself (the game medium) and a reference to the social order of the pack. Many people conjecture that the reference is even more
specific, stick ~ bone of the prey, but any dual reference at all suffices to establish symbol use.
Art is trickier. Unlike symbol
, it lacks an operational definition, and like natural language
, such definition as it has is
species-specific to homo sapiens
. For example, no matter how physically unlikely it is that human beings would paint in that space in Lascaux
(it is difficult to get to, cramped to work in, and there is not enough natural light for humans to work by - in color), it doesn't even occur to us
that the paintings are anything other than a human production.
What the elephants paint is interesting, but it is not representational
art. Even if it is representational to them
, it isn't to us, so
it isn't representational art. Who has the hyoid bone makes the rules.
If we ever decode dolphin sound, then the situation will be similar. One way or another, it will not be language. Then again, they probably say the
same thing about us
As to history, there is some evidence that elephants may have an "oral tradition." For example, they seem to "remember" where their ancestors have
found water during a drought, even if the elephant seeking the water hasn't experienced drought before.
That doesn't imply a use for an inanimate physical record. They are nomadic, and don't have pockets, so it is unclear what benefit any sort of token
could be to them. They are better off telling their descendants things and remembering what they have been told (assuming that that is what is going
Even among humans, writing is much newer than language, and it is throroughly unclear what early representational art represented. The animals on the
walls of Lascaux do not reflect the fauna with whom the artists dealt in any simple way. For all we know, then, these could be dream records.
[edit on 21-1-2010 by eight bits]