The Origin of Writing

by John Barclay-Morton


The First North Americans

Man with lion head hat

The photograph above captures what I think might well be the earliest known image portraying one of the first people to arrive in North America.

If you think that statement is controversial, well, you don't know the half of it yet. But be that as it may, I will simply tell you a little about what this image, and some others associated with it, can tell us.

The first thing of note is what this person is wearing on their head. It's the skinned head of an animal — some species of large cat, to be a little more precise. Now, there were a wide variety of large cats in North America at one time, so there is no shortage of potential candidates when one attempts to identify the species of this particular cat. And while I am by no means an expert — despite having looked at accurate, "drawn from life" images of quite a few kinds of ice age felines — I am going to tentatively identify this as having been a North American Lion.

North America Lions were the largest of the big cats — ever. They were fully a third ;larger than modern lions, and were most closely related to the cave lions of ice age Europe. They seem to have been a social animal, living in groups; but it is also possible that they hunted in pairs or by themselves. We really don't know, since all we have left of these animals are bones — they went extinct by about 11,000 years ago.

North American Lions are considered to have been apex predators in North America; and if they did group together in social units, it is easy to see why early humans would have felt an affinity toward them. Indeed, images of North American lions appear upon many examples of anametric image writing I have found: they seem to be the animal that early North Americans identified with most closely. There was, then, a very strong conceptual sense of identification toward North American lions on the part of early North Americans — something we see here as having been observed, and not just something we are inferring from image composites they created.

These early North Americans are shown elsewhere on this stone using boats of a type we now identify as "kayaks" (only, substantially longer, with the seat placed more toward the back than the front) — probably a light, hide-covered wooden-framed vessel. However, these early North Americans are not shown often, which is why I suspect this might be a visual record of some of the first people who arrived in North America. Instead, by far the most common type of image shown on this stone is of: HOMINIDS.

I should mention in passing that this really isn't the most contentious thing I've found in the course of my research — not even close. This stone came from a small island on the NorthWest Coast of North America, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. That being said, it is contentious enough that one would be hard pressed to find a single mainstream academic who would agree that hominids substantially colonized North America well before humans arrived.


This, however seems to be the case: the first images of people in North America were made by an earlier species of hominid, which was apparently already here when the first humans arrived. As I mentioned, there is no shortage of controversy to be found when researching anametric image writing; but, I am nonetheless going to just keep moving along at this point, even though there is LOTS of interest to see. Certainly, such controversy has dogged researchers much more prominent that I: for instance, the acclaimed archaeologist Louis Leakey became involved with excavations at the Calico Early Man Site toward the end of his life; but claims made regarding what were possibly stone tools found there, which might date back as far as 300,000 years, were widely and soundly discounted. Both the apparent age — unprecedented for any human occupation so far outside of Africa — and the primitive nature of the tools (which some claimed were simply naturally fractured stones misinterpreted as tools) led mainstream archaeology to deny any authenticity for this site.

However, the possibility that this site might have been one established by some hominid species that preceded humans into the Americas by well over 100,000 years — as did many other African species, such as lions — would in my mind throw an entirely new light upon the nature of this now ignored site.

For my part, I must confess that such controversies are not of particular interest to me in my current research. Nonetheless, having access to images externalized by a hominid species does provide me with some very interesting points-of-contrast in relation to how humans construct composites of images; and this in turn has allowed me to fine-tune my understanding of imaging consciousness, and an important corollary — volitional memory. Perhaps a little more interesting, however, is the fact that there are image aspects created by these hominids that I know I CAN'T see: I can tell that the non-conscious processes whereby these hominids imaged their world are different than mine. Sometimes I can coax images out of this example through some radical approaches to image editing; but there are definitely image composites there that my eye just does not discern. It appears that these hominids were particularly adept at discerning image composites from texture-based visual fields — something that I, as a human, do not seem to have an innate predilection toward.

That being said, there is obviously a significant overlap between the non-conscious neurology that processed imaging for these hominids, and that which enables similar abilities in humans. I can see many of the images they produced on this example; but I can also sense there are things going on visually that my mind simply does not resolve into conscious imagery. I suppose this is analogous to some of the examples cited in Goodale and Milner's "Sight Unseen", wherein they document cases of people who have had specific areas of their visual processing systems destroyed through tragic accidents (often, through near-asphyxia from carbon monoxide poisoning). In some such cases, people so affected by what is termed "visual form agnosia," can "see" objects but cannot resolve them within consciousness as being visually distinct.

But that is an extreme example; and it is in fact quite different from another aspect of anametric image writing that is inevitably encountered of other human producers: for, it seems we each produce conscious imagery through non-conscious processes a little differently. Indeed, this inherent productive variance is so pronounced that each person will experience differences within themselves, even when viewing the same objective field; and this, in accordance with minor variations in lighting, and view angle! An image resolved in one moment may disappear in the next; or, areas seemingly void of images might suddenly populate with them under different lighting conditions. And while this might at first glance preclude anametric image writing from functioning as a form of communication, in fact the opposite is true: this form of writing accentuates the differential textures demanded by writing. Indeed, this was an initial criticism I directed toward the Middle Eastern origin of writing: that a simple correspondence between image and object, as with any account kept in number, does not convey the variable nature of real events as they occur in time.

What we should therefore expect of anametric image writing, then, would be that those who used it would have had the habit of discussing together what they were seeing; and that "reading" would tend to be a communal process directed toward reaching a consensus regarding what was written. This being the case, it is not a contradiction to note that the First Nations use oral histories AND that they have always been a literate culture. There is no contradiction in this, because anametric image writing is not a phonetic form of writing. There is no contradiction in maintaining an oral history through a spoken language, and at the same time using a visual form of writing: that is simply a cultural difference from what is common in Western European cultures. Indeed, such a consensus-based approach to reading makes it much easier to demonstrate how anametric image writing would have existed as what Jean-Paul Sartre called "a non-subjective transcendental field": that is, a shared body of knowledge established through structural relationships that remain consistent across multiple users, without any single person or instance of use being held as definitional for that knowledge field.

This is the approach Edmund Husserl took when seeking to define the nature of geometry as a distinct body of knowledge in its own right, distinguishable from any specific examples of applied geometric principles ever invoked by any historical geometer; and Jacques Derrida would later adapt this approach to his study of writing, in defining grammatological relationships as the cohesive principle which establishes writing in non-subjective, transcendental fields of knowledge — that is, as capable of conveying information beyond a single individual and across great historical gulfs of lost time.

Dressing for an Age of Ice

The very singular example on the right is very, very old. It does not present anametric image writing per say; it is far too old to do that. It does however depict some of the earliest humans to live in North America — as presented by other humans.
This piece was sculpted to present a statuesque tableau: that of a family. Three hooded individuals are shown huddled together — presumably, in cold weather parkas. The original object from which this presentation was sculpted does not appear to have been a stone at all; rather, it seems to have been a very, very large molar tooth. I have no idea what it might have been from, but whatever it was is probably long extinct. There seem to still be traces of enamel on this, particularly on what is now the “base” of the sculpture; the narrower top corresponds to what would have been the single root of a large molar tooth. Single-rooted molars might be characteristic in themselves, but I know not of what.
The two main figures face to the left, with the back of their hoods toward the right. The faces of a male (toward the back, as the upper figure) and a female (more toward the front and lower down, as the middle figure) can be seen; as can the face of a very young child (recessed in a triangular depression, in the forefront facing outward to the right of the viewer, as if being carried by the woman).
The face of the child can be see most clearly — it is distinct enough for us to see that the child is being depicted as a young North American lion cub.
The faces of the man and the woman are, however, more difficult to discern, and this is for two reasons: being more exposed on a very old object, they are more worn; and, there is no single face for either: rather, faces for both were inscribed multiple times and, as a result (for instance), what might be the mouth and teeth of one facial iteration becomes the eyes for another. One can expect that, one or another of the faces should attain prominence according to the precise angle the sculpture is viewed at, and the level of illumination it is viewed with — in accordance with whatever conditions each face was inscribed under.
Chances are also very good that different people perceived different facial composites under different conditions, with each inscribing the object to clarify what they themselves saw. This might have gone on for generation after uncounted generation, until this object was lost into the time before I found it — below the high tide line, along an island’s edge on the NorthWest Coast of North America.

Ancient family wearing hooded parkas

Writing the Collectivity of Singular Lives

This example comes from a time when anametric image writing had become much more developed, having stabilized into a distinct form of writing in its own right. Here we can see a member of the First Nations who is identifiably so, even to our modern eyes: apparently, the placement of a feather (probably an eagle feather) in the hair was already an established custom a long, long time ago. How long ago? Well, we’ve seen this stone before, on this site’s home page — where it is shown depicting the short faced bear. Here, it is shown depicting a few mammoths (easily identifiable by the prehensile tip of their trunks); so, this imagery was created at least 11,000 years ago.

A man hunting mammoths

Something else marks this stone as singular: here, it appears that metallic gold was applied to highlight the inscribed image of this member of the First Nations. This definitively establishes that there was a clear intention to produce this image; and in phenomenology, the intentionality of conscious action is of utmost importance.

Although this is the only stone I’ve found that demonstrates such an intentional application of gold in defining an image, it is certainly not the only sample of gold I found in the many, many thousands of stones I’ve examined for traces of anametric image writing. So, by way of personal disclosure (before we consider the nature of conceptual personae), I would like to clarify a few things before we proceed.

Any stones I found that contained gold, but did not display anametric image writing, I simply threw away. This was a conscious decision on my part. I was not looking for gold. I was looking for anametric image writing. To start collecting gold would have been to deviate from my attempt to survey anametric image writing, and quite probably to fail in that task.

Accurately tracing the developmental contours of anametric image writing was a very difficult task — one that bordered upon near impossibility. Throughout that process, I regularly engaged in a range of meditative practices (to maintain my focus upon that task). Collecting gold for personal profit would have produced a mindset at odds with where I needed the intentionality of my consciousness to be, in order to successfully undertake an encompassing survey of anametric image writing.

I would not consider myself a novice at meditation; but at the same time, my interest in meditative techniques has always been a pragmatic one. My interest in meditation began in early high school, when I taught archery as a day camp councillor. By the end of high school, I had been introduced to the process of “self observation” (as outlined in Ouspensky’s texts about Gurdjieff). In university, I realized how applicable “self observation” was to phenomenology and other traditions of Western philosophic inquiry-by-meditation. After taking a year off from university, and spending a winter backpacking around archaeological sites in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I began the practice and study of taijiquan upon returning to university in 1983. In 1989, I attended a three day workshop on Taoist meditation techniques, personally taught by Mantak Chia — techniques I practice to this day.

Moving to Vancouver in late 1989, I began to further my study of internal martial arts — and my involvement with the environmental movement, and First Nations issues. That’s something of the person I was when I undertook to survey and document anametric image writing in 1991.

Having introduced myself a little better as some of those ways in which I tend to unfold my thoughts, I think that this is a good point at which to begin discussing the ideas that inform the use of “conceptual personae” within post-structural philosophy. As an analytic approach, the use of conceptual personae allows us to aggregate together and precipitate out aspects of the thoughts others tend toward forming. Of course, we’ll never actually know those members of the First Nations from so very long ago who created the examples of anametric image writing we encounter. And personally, I realize that I am in no position to speak for current members of the First Nations: they speak for themselves, and we all need to listen to what they are saying.

But this doesn't mean that we can't do anything here; and in fact, we can manage to do a surprising amount. To begin, what I can tell you as a post-structural philosopher is some of what we are saying in that field. For instance:

“Philosophy has three elements, each of which fits with the other two but must be considered for itself: the prephilosophical plane it lays out (immanence), the persona or personae it must invent and bring to life (insistence), and the philosophical concepts it must create (consistency). “Laying out, inventing, and creating constitute the philosophical trinity - diagrammatic, personalistic, and intensive features.”
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “What Is Philosophy”; pages 76-77.

In this approach, which marked a very fundamental shift in the way that philosophy constructs the work that it produces, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari sought to envision philosophy as based upon difference, rather than identity (which had been, prior to the post-structural revolution, the traditional way of thinking about pretty much everything). In doing so, they managed to move away from a long established co-dependency holding between subjects and objects — and to create a vast new range of conceptual tools with which to think the world, differently.

As we progress in our analysis of anametric image writing, we will find that we still have access (through a variety of approaches) to the diagrammatic features which lay out the prephilosophic plane of immanence upon which anametric image writing unfolded. We are also able to discern and define the intensive ordinates that impart consistency into the formation of concepts within anametric image writing. Taken together, these two aspects of philosophy provide us with enough information to begin inferring conceptual personae from anametric image writing — which in turn grants us access into such realms of thought as any form of writing might be expected to open. However, we are going to achieve this in ways which are not those normally associated with writing; because we are not going to be looking for single, specific "authors" of "books":

“Subject and object give a poor approximation of thought. Thinking is neither a line drawn between subject and object nor a revolving of one around the other. Rather, thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth... Territory and earth are two components with two zones of indiscernibility - deterritorialization (from territory to earth) and reterritorialization (from earth to territory). We cannot say which comes first.”
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
“What Is Philosophy”; pages 85-86.

When we move away from framing everything in terms of “subjects” and “objects” (such as "authors" and "books"), we also find that we can begin to think in ways outside of how “signifiers” and “signifieds” — words and objects — allow. We begin, through processes of deterritorialization, to free ourselves from how we had thought within the languages that we usually use: we begin to think new things, to find new ideas, instead of simply reterritorializing old ways of thinking upon things newly encountered. But, how are we then thinking?

You will recall that when we looked at what “concepts” are, a little earlier, we found that they are best described in terms of “events.” To speak of “conceptual personae,” then, is to document and describe how people actively engage with the dynamics of change in the world around them. It is to find consistent patterns in such engagement with the world. It is to consider the singular nature of any life/time:

“A point of view is defined by this: a small number of singularities drawn from the curve of the world. This is what is at the basis of an individual notion. What makes the difference between you and me is that you are, on this kind of fictional curve, you are constructed around such and such singularities, and me around such and such singularities. And what you call individuality is a complex of singularities insofar as they form a point of view.”
Gilles Deleuze’s Lecture Series on Leibniz
06/05/1980; page 9. Traducteur : Charles J. Stivale.

So: to describe myself, in terms of a conceptual persona documenting anametric image writing, I can tell you this: the choices I made might appear as moments chosen to lead toward a different future with each decision reached; but — more than this — the choices I made along my way were, each, grouping things brought together and away from things left out. This was the nature of the choices I made: in bringing some things into my life, I removed other things from my life; and this made my life into one which then engaged with the world differently than it would have, had different choices been made. By bringing different things together, my life became one that shifted in its engagement with the world; but, this is true of us all — whether we look at things this way or not. Certainly, this is an ongoing issue wherever global economic interests collide with those of the people retaining their occupancy of traditional territories — this is a kind of problem that is constantly arising.

Such considerations are precisely in line with what we said earlier about concepts — that they are not made up from nothing, that there are always actual sources for their components, and that it is the grouping of these components which determines the nature of the concepts being produced. This is exactly what we are going to find when we begin to examine the grammatological structures of the meta-narratives anametric image writing supports: that we are dealing extensively with grouping patterns of image elements, and that this process of composition produces the conceptual structures which we will encounter in anametric image writing.

Further, since we are not encountering "subjects" or "authors" per say but, are instead composing conceptual personae, we will find that we are already working within what Jean-Paul Sartre termed "non-subjective transcendental fields": that is to say, with conceptual personae we find ourselves working immediately within what is definitionally identifiable as writing — an interpersonal, transcendental field coherently structured into an organized body of knowledge.

“The transcendental field is defined by a plane of immanence, and the plane of immanence by a life.”

“A life is everywhere, in all the moments that a given living subject goes through and that are measured by given lived objects: an immanent life carrying with it the events or singularities that are merely actualized in subjects and objects.

“This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be to one another, but only between-times, between-moments; it doesn’t just come about or come after but offers the immensity of an empty time where one sees the event yet to come and already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.”
Gilles Deleuze; ‘Immanence: A Life’; pages 28-29 in “Pure Immanence.”

Western European languages tend to be heavily populated by objects, with only a modest differentiation of temporal states: past; present; and, future. As Jacques Derrida has pointed out, much of Western Philosophy is based upon a core equation between “the present” and “presence.” Termed “ontology,” this is a presumption concerning the nature of “being” that in fact also determines what “being logical” then becomes within and throughout Western thought.

However, we aren’t dealing with Western European systems of thought when we are encountering anametric image writing. At most, we are considering how to bring what anametric image writing is, into Western European thought.

Here is one approach undertaken with reference to such a situation:

“In English we divide most of our words into two classes, which have different grammatical and logical properties. Class 1 we call nouns, e.g., “house, man’; class 2, verbs, e.g., ‘hit, run’. Many words of one class can act secondarily as of the other class, e.g., ‘a hit, a run’, or, ‘to man (the boat)’, but, on the primary level, the division between the classes is absolute… It will be found that an “event” to US means “what our language classifies as a verb” or something analogized therefrom. And it will be found that it is not possible to define ‘event, thing, object, relationship’, and so on, from nature, but that to define them always involves a circuitous return to the grammatological categories of the definer’s language.

“In the Hopi language, ‘lightning, wave, flame, meteor, puff of smoke, pulsation are verbs - events of necessarily brief duration cannot be anything but verbs. “Cloud’ and ‘storm’ are at the lower limit of duration for nouns. Hopi, you see, actually has a classification of events (or linguistic isolates) by duration type, something strange to our modes of thought. On the other hand, in Nootka, a language of Vancouver Island, all words seem to us to be verbs, but really there are no classes 1 and 2; we have, as it were, an monistic view of nature that gives us only one class of word for all kinds of events. ‘A house occurs’ or ‘it houses’ is the way of saying ‘house’, exactly like ‘a flame occurs’ or ‘it burns’. These terms seem to us like verbs because they are inflected for durational and temporal nuances, so that the suffixes of the word for house event make it mean long-lasting house, temporary house, future house, house that use to be, what started out to be a house, and so on.”
Benjamin Lee Whorf, “Language, Thought, & Reality”
copyright 1956 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; pages 215-216.

If our decision to embrace conceptual personae seemed one taken out of dire necessity (due to a lack of any other viable alternatives), it can now be seen as in fact most fortuitous: by abandoning the Western European linguistic convention linking subjects with objects, we find ourselves now free to configure our analysis of "objects" in such a way as to allow their occurrence as "events" — and this is exactly what we need to be free to do, if we are to have any hope of reconstructing anametric image writing in ways consistent with how the spoken languages of the First Nations actually function.

We're not just talking about “another way of looking at the world” here: we are speaking about other ways of living in and engaging with the world's reality; and the world is certainly no less real for this approach, it is still every bit as real as Western European temporal paradigms would have it be. We are talking about ways of surveying the world; not in terms of subjects looking at objects, but instead as the tracing of singular points of "entanglement" that render components immanent, by shifting previously traced aspects into additional elements newly incorporated. Such entanglement precludes linearity, in that no past stabilizes future development: instead, singular points define the absence of what has been, by presenting that anew — so that the past (as already encountered) compositionally shifts into presentations of events (as differential repetitions), through singular entanglements (supporting compositional horizons-of-event).

Far from being bound by the linear narrative pattern of a line — such as is the standard in Western European languages — anametric image writing supports a range of differentially variant grammatological structures; such as, a circular reading pattern that constantly returns the previously encountered into new patterns of experiential grouping.

The Three Feather Chief

When speaking of the fundamental characteristics of writing, philosophers often make reference to a concept called "iterability" — that something once written can be written again. It would literally make no sense, for instance, for any form of writing to only use each word once. That the written can be repeated is a basic principle of writing.

This might seem to be a problematic principle with reference to anametric image writing, which is so integrally linked to the presentation of differences; but there is a fundamental concept in post-structural philosophy called "differential repetition" — and this is an iterative principle we can demonstrate as occurring in anametric image writing.

Images of the Three Feather Chief

Pictured above, at the top left, is the first example of anametric image writing that I found. Upon closer examination, the first image pattern I noticed was that of the facial composite portrayed above. Here, we can clearly see a mouth, two eyes, and a design motif above the eyes: a constellation of marks I call "the three feathers" (more on that a little later).

One would probably feel justified in assuming this presentation of such a very distinctive composition of facial features would be quite singular; but, I was able to find two other examples of similar assemblages of facial features. The first localizes this assemblage in the context of what I would identify as an event map of Coastal territory; the second has the The Three Feather Chief motif appearing in front of another person, seemingly as a disembodied spirit.

On the Map Stone, the Three Feather motif appears in composite outline as a hand ax — which is also the last "Feather" on the original Three Feather Chief stone. The area in which all three stones were found, when correlated to the placement of the Three Feather Chief motif on the Map Stone, seems to accurately orient the Map Stone when taken in conjunction with two other singular examples of anametric image writing I have found. This is certainly consistent with the approach Deleuze and Guattari outline as "geophilosophy": that we might best think of conceptual personae in terms of territorialization:

The role of conceptual personae is to show thought’s territories, its absolute deterritorializations and reterritorializations. Conceptual persona are thinkers, solely thinkers, and their personalized features are closely linked to the diagrammatic features of thought and the intensive features of concepts. A particular conceptual persona, who perhaps did not exist before us, thinks in us.”
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
“What is Philosophy?”; page 69.

It is interesting to note here that we are literally dealing with "thought's territories": that is to say, in anametric image writing we are encountering that which compelled thought of the world in which those who produced this writing lived. This is a very concrete realization of the principles Deleuze and Guattari outline: it is far less abstract than their focus upon the works of other philosophers was; and as a result, the application of these principles proves to be much more firmly anchored in empirical evidence that can be directly referenced.

Given that the goal of semiology within philosophy has always been to make linguistics into a proper science, this can only aid and strengthen those efforts.

As important as the previous two examples are, in a way it is the third example of the Three Feather Chief motif that is the most interesting of them all. This small stone bears numerous composite image patterns relating to the production of stone tools; and the implication is, that The Three Feather Chief had at that point in time become a historical figure associated with tool making prowess who was invoked for guidance and support. This clearly indicates that there were well developed oral histories paralleling that which was inscribed through anametric image writing: a literate culture was in place, but one which supplemented its spoken culture differently than we see happening with the phonetic writing systems of Western Europe.