Keynote Lecture: Writing, in the Deep by Professor Silvia Ferrara

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As part of the Anchoring Innovation Conference 'Anchoring the Invention of Writing in Ancient Societies', Professor Silvia Ferrara (Università di Bologna) gives a keynote lecture at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden on Thursday, December 15th.

Writing, in the Deep

The invention of writing is arguably one of the greatest achievements in human history, yet how, why, and when it emerged is still an open-ended question. A lot of progress has been made in recent times, moving away from a view that saw writing as a one-off invention in Mesopotamia, ca. 5000 years ago. Now we can claim that humankind invented writing more than once, with at least four separate inventions that took place originally and independently. This is not the complete picture, however. Many a view still see writing as the result of heavily invested complex societies, that harnessed and used it to specific ends and to precise goals, as if writing and anything tied to it were the result of a controlled, inevitable, deterministic, or teleological process.

In this presentation I argue for a completely different view, one that accounts for the discovery to be part of a gradual, progressive course, one that accounts for a slow evolution made of increasing advancements, one that sees writing as part of a complex, multi-dimensional tooth in the ratchet machine of our cultural evolution. Its deepest roots can be observed in the iconic configurations and in the geometric and schematic shapes of Paleolithic symbols, in a non-linear, non-continuous development through the Neolithic and Bronze age phases of several civilizations. The harnessing of shapes and geometries stirred by our visual perception, the unique sensitivity of human cognition to the affordances and constraints of symmetries and complex configurations all contributed to the anchoring of signs to create a means of representation that is deeply embedded in the way we see the world.

Speaker: Professor Silvia Ferrara (Università di Bologna)
Location: National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) in Leiden
Time: 19.30 – 21.30 uur
Free entrance

Please register for this lecture before 12 December 2022 by sending an email to: Dante Aramideh (