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The art of graphic design has its roots deep in the past, beginning with prehistoric images carved on fragments of bone or painted on the walls of caves, these images represent humanity’s first attempts to communicate a message visually, which is the essence of graphic design

The prehistoric period can be divided into two parts: Old Stone Age or Paleolithic dating from 30,000-10,000 B.C., and the New Stone Age or Neolithic which dated from 10,000-5,000 B.C.

The Cro-Magnons, our direct ancestors, developed innovations in the areas of; technology (making of tools, etc.), social organization, and the arts. They were also the first people to communicate visually. They lived mainly in southern France and northern Spain.

The dramatic example of their early images can be found on the walls and ceilings of the caves at Lascaux in France. Here they recorded daily life experiences.

The earliest images that have survived are called pictographs, symbols representing things. As society becomes more complex, so did visual communication. Pictographs began to take on extended meanings. They were no longer limited to representing objects or things; they now could express thoughts, such as actions or ideas.

For example, the simple drawing of the sun no longer represented just the sun
it also could mean day or time. Or the symbol of a foot could mean to stand or to walk.

We now refer to these expanded pictographs as ideographs, because they express ideas or actions. The Chinese language is an example of a modern language that is primarily ideographic.

This evolution in visual communication from pictographs to ideographs represents a major step in development of a written language.

The Egyptians were responsible for the invention of papyrus, a paper-like material, that came from the plant that grew along the Nile River, allowed written communication to be carried over great distances, compared to heavy clay tablets of the Sumerians.

The Egyptians also produced a great amount of architecture, sculpture, and painting, much of it dedicated to their obsession with life after death. The interiors of tombs were covered with wall paintings illustrating the daily events of life. [back to top]

The earliest Egyptian writing, dates back to around 3,000 B.C. and was a picture-writing system that utilized both pictographs and ideographs. This form of writing is called Hieroglyphics, which in Greek means “sacred carving”.

The Rosetta Stone was discovered by a French officer in Napoleon’s army in the town of Rosetta Egypt in 1799, and is the most significant example of Egypt’s hieroglyphics. The stone was taken by the English after a French surrender in 1802, and is in now in a British museum.

The Rosetta Stone dates from 197-196 B.C. The black slab, which is a stone called basalt, has an inscription that includes two languages; Egyptian Demotic and Greek, and the script of Egyptian hieroglyphics

The origin of civilization across the world in China is a mystery, but it its thought that by the year 2,000 B.C. a culture was evolving. It evolved in virtual isolation from civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Among the many inventions/innovations from the ancient Chinese include;
• Compass
• Gunpowder
• Chinese Calligraphy
• Paper (105 A.D.)
• Printing
• Moveable Type

Chinese calligraphy, an ancient writing system, is still used today by more people than any other visual language system. This form of calligraphy is purely visual, not alphabetical, and was invented around 1,800 B.C.

The invention of paper is credited to Ts’ai in China in the year 105. The first paper was made from a variety of vegetable fibers like mulberry bark, bamboo, silk, cotton, linen, and rope.

The Phoenicians were an aggressive seafaring nation that settled along the coast of what is now Lebanon and northern Israel. Because the Phoenicians were successful merchants and they required an efficient writing system. They realized that only 22 important sounds existed in their spoken language. They decided that if they were to designate a different sign for each sound they could write their language using just 22 signs.

The Greeks made one important modification to the Phoenician letter form, vowels were emphasized in the Greek spoken language so they added; A, E, I O, U. The Greeks added the vowels and took away a few of the Phoenician characters, creating a 25 character system that accounted for all of the important sounds in their language.

The Romans took the Greek alphabet and further modified it to create their own alphabet of 23 letters, which is the closest alphabet to our alphabet today. They also dropped the Greek practice of calling the letters alpha, beta, and gamma in favor of a simpler A, B, C like we use today.

The years from 500 to 1000 are referred to as the Early Middle Ages or the Dark Ages. It was during this time that monks found themselves heirs to the culture and traditions of the Roman Empire. Monasteries became literary and writing centers where scribes copied religious and secular works by hand.

The High Middle Ages, also known as the Romanesque Period dates from 1000 to 1200. It was during this time that universities were first founded. The first universities established were in Bologna in 1088, in Paris in 1150, and in Oxford in 1167. [back to top]

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