Previous Next Title Page Index Contents Site Index

14.1. Markings / signs / codings
14.2. Economical, technological and informational factors of material CMM
14.3. Informational factors for classification of material CMM

14. Static-Material Cultural Memory Media (CMM)


14.1. Markings / signs / codings

markings[464], in the most general sense: systematic and consistent recognizable patterns of {modifications / modulations / marking substances}, introduced {into / onto} a {medium / substratum / material / flow of material or energy}.

(en-)coding: marking, with respect to intended information . (Watt 1997: 404-413). The verbal language oriented CMM are used to encode language words and concepts, and phonographic writing encodes language sounds. But in the non-verbal language oriented CMM the kinds of information encoded belong to many different domains. In a certain class of applications, cryptocodes, codings serve to transmit as well as to hide an information (Watt 1997: 405).

sign: a similar usage to marking is in the semiotic term sign (Posner: 1997). The difference is that markings are always the result of intentional action. Signs are observer-dependent and anything can be a sign for someone signifying something for him/her. Peirce's definition of a sign is:

Peirce, (1931-1958) Collected Papers:
(CP 2.303): Anything which determines something else (its interpretant) to refer to an object to which itself refers (its object) in the same way, the interpretant becoming in turn a sign, and so on ad infinitum. [465]
(CP 2.304): No doubt, intelligent consciousness must enter into the series. If the series of successive interpretants comes to an end, the sign is thereby rendered imperfect, at least. If, an interpretant idea having been determined in an individual consciousness, it determines no outward sign, but that consciousness becomes annihilated, or otherwise loses all memory or other significant effect of the sign, it becomes absolutely undiscoverable that there ever was such an idea in that consciousness; and in that case it is difficult to see how it could have any meaning to say that that consciousness ever had the idea, since the saying so would be an interpretant of that idea.
(CP 2.305): A sign is either an icon, an index, or a symbol. An icon is a sign which would possess the character which renders it significant, even though its object had no existence; such as a lead-pencil streak as representing a geometrical line. An index is a sign which would, at once, lose the character which makes it a sign if its object were removed, but would not lose that character if there were no interpretant. Such, for instance, is a piece of mould with a bullet-hole in it as sign of a shot; for without the shot there would have been no hole; but there is a hole there, whether anybody has the sense to attribute it to a shot or not. A symbol is a sign which would lose the character which renders it a sign if there were no interpretant. Such is any utterance of speech which signifies what it does only by virtue of its being understood to have that signification.
(CP 2.307): A Sign (q.v.) which is constituted a sign merely or mainly by the fact that it is used and understood as such, whether the habit is natural or conventional, and without regard to the motives which originally governed its selection.

14.2. Economical, technological and informational factors of material CMM

Marvin (1986: 356): As the means of production are critical for Marx, so the means of communication are critical for Innis. What governs the potency of voice, stone, clay, parchment, papyrus, and paper are their relative attributes of durability and portability. These attributes select victors among competing historical powers by conferring relative advantages of range and longevity in the exercise of authority.

Innis (1952: 78): I have attempted elsewhere to develop the thesis that civilization has been dominated at different stages by various media of communication such as clay, papyrus, parchment, and paper produced first from rags and then from wood. Each medium has its significance for the type of script, and in turn for the type of monopoly of knowledge which will be built and which will destroy the conditions suited to creative thought and be displaced by a new medium with its peculiar type of monopoly of knowledge.

Assmann (1995: 349): The central thesis of this school is: cultures are defined by the capacity of their media, i.e. their recording, storage and transmission technologies. With this thesis, the focus of attention was directed towards issues of writing systems and -institutions, types of communication, transmission channels for messages, and storage technologies of knowledge. This perspective of media determination of culture that came in a time of immensely accelerated technological evolution, has not only revealed its critical impact, it has also given rise to new issues of research...
->:LIT_CULTMEDIA, p. 140.

Dechend (1997: 9): ... we have to state first, that next to no phenomenon should be accepted as "suggesting itself", and "obvious", no instrument, no technique, no rite, no game, no dance. The more fundamental, and the more apparently self-suggesting a technique, the more ingenious the brain that hatched it.

In this section, the method of Innis will be applied to general material CMM, including those of indigenous cultures. Heeding the advice of H. v.Dechend, one needs to scrutinize all cultural productions as representants of CM, since all needs to be handed down between generations, and re-learned by each new generation. This may be such commonplace and everyday tasks as finding and preparing food, cures for small ailments, building shelters, constructing implements, and tools, making clothes, etc. Levi-strauss (1975: 390-393). The label "oral tradition" is not correct for this type of CM transmission, since verbal language may accompany it, but the main transmission is either performative, or a skill in the preparation of materials. In many cases, language is not part of the transmission e.g. Staal (1982), (1986), (1989), The general label for this was coined above as diachronic extension of cultural patterns .[466] In most cases of everyday-use indigenous CM, the utility fabrication of tools, implements and performances are their own CM carriers. Thus, in the strict sense of McLuhan: "the medium is the message". (Goetsch 1991: 124). The practice itself is the carrier of the cultural memory, or: memory is process .

Writing is a CMT that originated in highly differentiated agricultural societies where the necessity arose to devise CM transmission methods for large volumes of records. Lambert (1966). The advantages and cost factors (the tradeoffs) of different writing systems have been amply discussed in the works of the Toronto school following the works of Innis (1972), (1991) and the media studies research. [467] An ideal writing system would be one that is easy to learn, that doesn't tax the writer's physical and mental resources too much, and that is receivailable by a maximally large audience for a maximally long time. These conditions cannot be met optimally by any single system, and therefore some optimizations here must be traded for other weaknesses elsewhere. Raible (1991: 327-328). The environmental factors have a strong influence on the development of human societies, as is described by Diamond (1992) and (1997), and this influences their CMM (1997: 215-238). The ensemble of economical, technological and informational tradeoff factors of materials for record keeping become crucial for highly organized pre-industrial cultures as we can see in the history of early civilizations. (Lambert 1966). The most durable materials, stone and metal, were too costly for widespread administrative use, and so the availability of cheap writing materials proved crucial for their development . The optimal technical requirements for a writing material are: it must be cheap, light, flat, durable, easy to inscribe, and must provide for at least some measure of correctability. In pre-electronic technology, these conflicting requirements are best met with paper, which is the product of a very long process of technological development (Sandermann 1997) [468]. The sometimes heavy cost tradeoff factors involved in the procurement and usage of CMM materials had a direct influence on the civilizations using them. Their interdependence and interplay have influenced the rise and fall of civilizations and have also added some specific accents to history, like the burning of the Alexandrian Library (Canfora 1988) and the fall of the Roman Empire. Mcluhan emphasizes (1972: 61): "The Roman empire fell apart because of scarcity of papyrus. The Roman road was a paper route." Modern critics of electronic media point out that present day civilizations may rush into electronic conversion of their precious paper and alphabet based CM stores without considering hidden traps which might lead to serious civilatory backlashes (Stoll 1996, especially 110-119, 227-311).

General sources : Innis (1952) (1972) (1991), Dechend (1977), (1993), (1997), (personal communications). Forbes (1972), FIS94, FIS96, Goppold (1996a), Marijuán (1996, 1997), Hertz (1930), Marvin (1986), Mcluhan (1972), Needham (1959) Neuburger (1919), Posner (1990), (1997), Scarre (1990), Smith (1981), Stonier (1992, 1994), Kornwachs (1984, 1996), Wertime (1980). Schinz (1989), (1997), (personal communications [469]). Literature on data stability in electronic media: Rothenberg (1995: 66-71). A speech given by Klaus Kornwachs at FAW Ulm in 1996 on the long-term stability of information carriers, and personal communications. Conversations at the FIS96 conference, Vienna (1996). Application of general information engineering knowledge derived from 15 years practice in the information industry to the information media situation of ancient and indigenous societies . More sources listed in the respective paragraphs.

14.3. Informational factors for classification of material CMM

This is a condensed list of informational factors for classifying and evaluating material CMM in cultural context, together with some examples extracted from the following sections .

1) Substratum material properties, classed by persistence or ephemerality :
fixed, persistent: stone, metal, wood, skin (parchment [470]), baked clay, paper, papyrus
phase-changeable (meltable, malleable, rewriteable, persistent): metal, wax, fresh clay
material flow, ephemeral: scent, smoke, air and water flow
energetic flow , ephemeral: sound, light, electric

2) Retention time of storage:
long-term, (100 years+): stone, metal, baked clay, skin,
medium, (10 years+): wood, paper, papyrus, skin,
short, (0-1 year), rewritable: blackboard, sand markings, calculi, wax, raw clay,
ephemeral: sound, light, and electric signals.

3) Instrumental and material properties of marking device:
hardness, flexibility: chisel, engraving tool, pencil, pen, brush, airbrush,
range of shapes coded: brush->waveforms, pen->lines, airbrush->color clouds.

4) Technical / material / social cost factors, to produce/reproduce:
energy * (man-hours) * (skill level of training of personnel) for the
procurement of material/energetic substrate, and encoding devices,
process of modulation,
process of recovering the content,
preservation/copying of the materials vs. information losses due to copying errors
economic and organizational cost factors of copying, collating,
comparing, re-ordering, systematization.

5) Miscellaneous Information factors
information density absolute,
information quantity per mean unit of storage,
information quantity per weight unit of storage,
transportability (factors of weight and durability),
storability (factors of durability),
information transmission speed:
a) speed by which the material substrate can be transported, i.e. by a man on foot, on horse,
wheel, chariot, or by boat.
b) Signal travelling speed and relaying delay for optical and other ephemeral systems.

6) Sensory modality affected
visual (color-insensitive /-sensitive), auditive, tactile, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory

The following sections contain an extended systematic exposition of the economical, technological and informational tradeoff factors of markings in durable CMM materials that are or have been used in indigenous cultures and ancient civilizations .

14.3.1. Anorganic


Neuburger (1919: 271-410), (Encarta: Egyptian Art and Architecture), Anati (1991), Lock (1996), Semiotica (1994), Edwards (1961), Mendelssohn (1976), Roeder (1944/49). Stone is among the first materials used by humans / humanoids from earliest times on. Because stone utensils are so much more durable than any organic material used by early humans, the archeological record has preserved those remains in much better condition and much larger quantity than any other remains. The best known cases of prehistoric stone CMM are rock paintings and engravings (Anati 1991). Rocks and caves are mainly found in mountainous terrain, and because of these situational peculiarities, the CM technique of rock paintings and engravings could be used only in very specific circumstances, for example by nomadic people who visited these sites on their wanderings. A mountain range is not the the ideal place for large agricultural settlements, like the civilizations as they arose after -4000 in the river lowlands of the Nile and Mesopotamia. In those civilizations, stone was used for monumental architecture and writing. If stone has to be quarried and processed for such purposes, it requires a great expenditure in effort and the concerted work of many people. The technology of the earliest civilizations, like the ancient Egyptian, of -3000 was basically neolithic, although hardened copper or arsenic bronze were available. Flinders Petrie had assumed that tools for machining stone were constructed in a composite manner with hard (precious) stones inset in (arsenic bronze) metal saws (Innis 1972: 13). But most of the work had to be done using stones on stones, to cut, polish and inscribe, the material . (Neuburger 1919: 400-404). This process is considerably slower than when using iron tools. While stone monument recordings are very durable, their cost for mundane record keeping is prohibitive. And for ordinary accounting in a highly organized society, stone is thus useless. Stone was mostly used for writing when the cutting and shaping of the stones was part of a construction project, ie. the monumental architecture as affair of the state (and/or) religion. Architectural monuments served a multi-purpose role with CMM as side effect .

Norcia (1986: 346): In Egypt kingly and priestly power rested on different media; but religion and politics and their media monopolies could reinforce each other as well as compete. The durability of stone helped the Paraoh to control time and resist the priests. Indeed their switch to papyrus made the Pharaoh's administration and military more efficient.

The principle of monumental architecture as CMM has been followed (or independently developed) in all civilizations - be it in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian monuments, Greek and Roman temples, the European church architecture (cathedrals as most prominent example), Islamic mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples (Borobudhur, Khajuraho), or Maya monomuents.

Another widespread use of stone for CMM has been in the form of counting stones, called psephoi in Greek and calculi in Latin (Ifrah 1991: 47, 117, 136, 188-193).


(Encarta: Slate), Kittler (1997: 194). Every rule has its exception: A stone writing material that is very easy and cost-effective to use, is slate. Its natural consistency makes it ideal for many purposes of short-term rewritable record keeping, since it occurs naturally in large and flat panels, and is fairly abundant. It can be written onto with chalk, and the writing is easily erased with water. So it was used in the schools and in the shops everywhere. In western Europe, it has just died out recently around the 1950's. It is still used as a water resistant construction material for roofs and exterior wall coverings in large parts of Europe.

Clay and pottery

(Encarta: pottery), Herrmann (1977: 53-56), König (1997: 116-123), Neuburger (1919: 133-154), Levi-strauss (1975: 391-392). Baked clay was probably used by humans as soon as fire was available. (Leroi-gourhan 1984: 220). The hardening of pieces of soil in the fire is too conspicuous to have escaped early humans' attention. But its great ascent in importance is connected to the neolithic "revolution". This was a longtime, gradual transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyle to various forms of plant cultivation, high-intensity garden-oriented horticulture and later to agriculture. (Thompson 1987: 194). Plant cultivation and pottery are reciprocal cultural technologies, one supporting the other. Pottery vessels are ideal for storing grains and they are inherently rodent-proof, a very important factor considering that rodents multiply exponentially and eat all the harvest where storage conditions are not sufficient, like in third world countries. So, clay became a most widespread and favored material for neolithic material culture, as well as CMM. Gimbutas (1974), (1995) amply describes the CMM use of pottery in the Old Europe cultures of the Balkans.

The use of clay involves several diverse factors and implications: First, the source material is abundant and cheap to procure, easy to form into a vast range of 3d shapes, and best of all, very durable when baked. Vessels made of baked clay can be made water proof by glazing, needing higher temperatures than normal firing. (Leroi-gourhan 1984: 223-227). About 600º C is needed for low level firing which is water-permeable. This can be achieved with a low energy cow dung open fire without an oven. The use of semipermeable clay vessels is very important for the storage of water in hot climates since the evaporation keeps the water cool (Neuburger 1919: 140).

Nothing comes without a cost, however. Baked clay is quite heavy, and breaks easily . Therefore, a widespread use of clay utensils is only useful for people who lead a sedentary lifestyle. The high temperature firing technology for high grade pottery is equally suitable for metal smelting smelting (Leroi-gourhan 1984: 220-227). As the chinese Shang example indicates, their very high pottery technology allowed those people to develop one of the most refined cast-bronze technologies of all times. The clay models for these vessels were fabricated to a precision that can only today equalled with modern high industrial material technology. Rawson (1995: 76-81), Goepper (1995). An insidious drawback of fired clay and metal smelting technology is the insatiable hunger for (wood) fuel. Since wood (charcoal) is the main firing material in pre-industrial culture, this will eventually lead to deforestation and ecological destruction . Campbell (1985). The widespread use of cow dung for fire in India is the main ecologically sustainable exception. Harris (1989: 309-313).

The use of clay for purposes of CMM coincided with the functional use: Right from the beginning, clay objects were most lavishly adorned with ornaments. A particularly important case of ancient European CMM pre-history is in the Old Europe cultures of the area of former Jugoslavia, near Belgrad. [471] Clay was used especially for CMM in ancient Mesopotamia. See also Denise Schmandt-besserat's (1978, 1992) treatment of the clay tokens to which she attributes a crucial role in the development of writing. Ancient Greek culture before the Hellenistic era had a shortage of paypyrus and used pottery as CMM in form of vases and shards (ostraka). Mcluhan (1972: 61). For further discussion of clay use for CMM, see:

Sand, Soil

Sand and soil paintings are known in many parts of the world. Well known are US southwest Amerind (e.g. Encarta: Navajo) and Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. Some ancient designs on the ground have probably survived throughout millennia, like the monumental Nazca lines in South America (Aveni 1986: 5), and on the British islands.


Neuburger (1919: 4-70), Forbes (1972), König (1997: 97-110), Wertime (1980), Smith (1981). The metals / alloys known and used in antiquity: Gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, arsenic-bronze, tin-bronze, iron, mercury, zinc . Metal technology is based on (high temperature) fire and oven technology (Leroi-gourhan 1984: 220-227), (Hermann 1977: 90-91, 109-110). [472] In ancient times, the expression "aere perennius" (more durable than bronze) was proverbial (Kittler 1997: 200), (Cassirer 1994: 126). The material strength and corrosion stabil ity of bronze give it as high a resistance to the wear and tear of the ages as stone. Its chemical stability is much greater than iron. Hundreds of thousands of well preserved ancient bronze objects dug out of the soil in many places attest to this. Notable are Shang and Zhou Chinese and Celtic bronze relics (Rawson 1995: 76-94, Creel 1935). Bronze was among the most expensive materials used in antiquity. Its strategic importance derived from its potential to equip armies with weapons that proved superior against neolithic armory, but the long trade routes of tin also made states using it vulnerable when the supply fell short. (Zangger 1995: 216), (Hermann 1977: 112-116, 136). Besides weapons, it was used most widely for money and by this, coins became a very wide spread CMM. (Without being intended this way. The coincidence serves extremely well for archeological purposes. If paper money had been wide spread in antiquity, we would be out of luck for a lot of our historical knowledge.)

14.3.2. Organic


(Neuburger 1919: 71-78, 399-400) (Encarta: wood carving). Wood is an ubiquitous material used for the construction of nearly everything in the life environment of preindustrial culture almost everywhere on the planet, except possibly Inuit, where only driftwood was available (Encarta: Inuit), and Mesopotamia[473] (Encarta: Mesopotamia / Mesopotamian art and architecture). Therefore it has always been used for markings in form of carving and painting the surfaces of wooden objects. The oldest usage for record keeping was in form of tallying sticks (Ifrah 1991: 110-118). It has further found widespread use in form of wax covered wooden boards which were in heavy use in antiquity (Böhme-dürr 1997: 367). Only a few specimen are preserved in the archeological record, a pair of these boards was found in an ancient wreck off the coast of Turkey (Symington 1991).


Used often like wood, especially where wood was scarce (Inuit). Ivory was used as luxury material for calculi and abaci. (Ifrah 1991: 136-159). Tallying sticks (Ifrah 1991: 110-118). Prehistoric use: Marshack (1972).

Skin, leather, parchment

Skin and animal hide is among the oldest cultural implements of humanity (Neuburger 1919: 79-84). In the northern climates, where vegetal fibers are of less variance than in the tropics, animal fiber has found wide use. The skins of animals, and also humans were used for utilitary purposes as well as CMM surface. [474] Also of high importance are leather knotworks and braidworks. The best known mythology connected to this is the famous Gordian knot of Alexander which he declined to unravel, hacking it to pieces instead. The legend explicitly mentions that the knot was made of leather. The models for the celtic braidwork patterns of the book of Kells were originally leather artefacts (Bain 1973, Merne 1974, Illich 1988: 29-30). The use of leather and skin was of course more connected to hunting and pastoral cultures. Leather thread- or braidworks are among the most durable and flexible materials, with very high tensile strength. It was also used for body armor.

The best known CMM material made from skin is parchment. (Encarta: Parchment and Vellum):
Parchment and Vellum, writing materials made from specially prepared and untanned skins of animals, usually sheep, calves, or goats. Parchment has been used at least since about 200 BC; its name is derived from the ancient Greek city of Pergamum, where an especially fine quality of the material was produced. Vellum is a finer quality parchment made from the skins of kids, lambs, and young calves. Parchment, which gradually replaced papyrus and was itself later replaced by paper, is still used occasionally for formal honorary documents. Parchment or vellum is prepared by cleaning the skin and removing the hairs, scraping and smoothing both sides of the skin, and finally rubbing it with powdered pumice. Coarser parchments made from the skins of older animals are used for the heads of drums, banjos, and tambourines. So-called parchment paper, a modern invention, is made by dipping ordinary unsized paper into a solution of two parts concentrated sulfuric acid and one part water for a few seconds and then quickly neutralizing the acid.

The finest grade of parchment came from unborn calves, cut out of the womb of the mother cow. Also the highest cost, since one had to kill the cow as well as the calf. The finest bibles were fabricated from this material.

A profound change in information economy was caused by the switch from papyrus to parchment in the middle ages. (Innis 1972: 116-140). Parchment is more durable, but also more costly than papyrus. By this, a severe economical clamp is put on writing culture, squeezing the flow of information to a mere dribble in medieval times compared to Roman times.

Human skin

The skin of living humans is used as CMM by body painting in many parts of the world, Grössing (1997), Australia: Mountford (1964), Amazon: Boggiani (1895), (1930), Lehmann-nitsche (1904), Münzel (1988), Ribeiro (1980) (1983) (1987) (1988), Vidal (1981), (1987), Levi-strauss (1942), (1978: 168-180, 208-209), (1977: 267-291).
Other widespread applications are tattooing, in Polynesia, China, India, and Japan. (Encarta: tattooing), Schönfeld (1960), also scarification and piercing, Straube (1964: 675-704). Schildbach (1997). Further cases of CM usage of human skin, see also:
->:TACTILE, p. 147


A widely used material for ornamental objects and designs are feathers. Most notable are the usage by North and South Amerind people: Nicola (1980) Ribeiro (1957), (1987), and in Australia: Strehlow (1971) (1996), Mountford (1964: 385-396).

Human Hair

Hair fashion is an important CMM in many African cultures (Frehn 1986).

Tree bark

Tree bark is by its biological function of serving as "skin" for the tree, a naturally occurring material that can be used like paper for CMM. It can be peeled off, and yields large and flat sheets. In this role, it has mainly been used in the Amerind theater, like for the Maya and Aztec codices (Boone 1994: 60), Gebhart-sayer (1987: 267). Also in India (Staal 1986: 278). The material also was used for clothes and it is of sufficient strength to even have served for the fabrication of boats, as the North Amerind use in birchbark canoes exemplifies (Encarta: canoe).

Fiber Products

The use of plant and animal fibers accounts for the oldest cultural implements of humanity, which are likely to have co-originated with stone tools. The problem with proving this hypothesis is that as organic material, fibers usually haven't survived the time spans that stone tools endure. There are no one-million year old ropes and braidworks to be found in the fossil strata [475]. Just because of their durability, stone tools are the leitfossils of the paleolithic, and we must infer the use of fiber from indirect evidence and reasoning. One factor is that stone tools are more usable if mounted in some kind of handle, which is mostly made of wood or bone, and the combination of both elements is either done with a glue or resin, or a kind of thread or rope, or a leather band. The ecological environment influences whether it is predominantly animal material (hair, sinew, leather, see the paragraph on leather) or vegetable fiber that is used. In northern climates, animal material will be dominant, in tropical climates, vegetable fiber.

Another method to determine the use of fiber in paleolithic culture is by accounting the economic and life support necessities of a hunter/gatherer culture. All their implements, like huts, tents, clothes, and ornaments, must be held together with some kind of threads and yarns. Before the advent of pottery, the storage of materials was mostly in nets and baskets, as well as hollowed trees , and gourds. (See also: baskets). Up to the industrial age, nets and baskets were also the most important carrying containers. If one were to account for the sum total of all the uses of fiber in a culture like this, it would be apparent that as much human energy and craftiness went into the production of fiber (or leather) implements, as stone. Another route of reasoning would go by comparison with the animal arts. A bird nest is a highly evolved material technology, even if that is rarely acknowledged as such. By copying the patterns of weaver birds, early man would have been able to derive his (or her) earliest arts and crafts directly by imitating nature.


Palm leaves were used for writing in India and other South Asian countries (Khing 1983). Because this material is quite brittle and stiff, it is otherwise not very suitable as writing surface. In the humid climate of South Asia, its resistance against tropical influences makes up for some of its other material deficits. Staal (1986: 278) .

Rope, Knot and braid patterns

Neuburger (1919: 185-189). Probably the oldest fiber CMM are knot and braid patterns (also: baskets, below). Sailors have cultivated knot art until modern times, to the end of the era of sailing ships, and there are yarn pattern games in many cultures. The celtic knotwork patterns of the Book of Kells show the transition of the knot system into a more modern medium, and even a (short-lived) attempt of coexistence of these two entirely polar types of CMM. Bain (1973), Merne (1974), Illich 1988: 29-30). Bachofen (1925: 308-315) has shown the ancient mythological connections of the fiber arts in "Oknos der Seilflechter".

This mythological connection survives to the present day in the rosary culture of all the major religions as a meditation device (Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Islam) (Encarta: rosary).

A wide application of knots is for record keeping. Ascher (1981), Haarmann (1990: 56-60), Haarmann (1997: 677), Ifrah (1991: 16, 33, 47, 114, 121-128), Scharlau (1986: 80-93), Boone (1994: 198-199, 234-239, 241, 259, 284, 295, 299), (Encarta: Inca). This has been found on all continents, for example a wide use in China. (Scharlau 1986: 81), (Ifrah 1991). Most remarkable is its use in the Inca quipu system, since here is a case of a civilization which didn't use writing[476] but used this notation system as main tool for the administration of a very large territory measuring 4000 km in its longest extent, with the additional difficulty of mountainous terrain, and no horses or other animals for quick transportation available. The solution for a fast long range communication and transportation system to exclusive imperial use, was the relay courier system. A human long range runner cannot carry a heavy load, and therefore a very lightweight but durable CMM was needed. It is generally assumed that only specific types of numerical data were encoded with an intricate system of colored knots in a many-stranded rope. Scharlau (1986: 87-89), citing Ascher (1981). An investigation of a quipu containing astronomical information is in Zuidema (1986: 341-351). Some accounts indicate that it was possible to encode complete narratives into the quipu. Menninger (1957/58: II,62): "Bericht von Garcilasso de la Vega, der Sohn einer Inkaprinzessin und eines Spaniers." Scharlau (1986: 263<79>). See also the discussion in Scharlau (1986: 80-93). Further discussion under:

Baskets, plait, wicker, thatchwork

(Chambers 1968: Baskets): The uses of basketry are extremely varied, especially among peoples of lower culture. Basketry provides clothing and ornament, houses and furniture, cooking and water vessels, sieves, platters and trays, besides the receptacles for collecting and storing food or treasures. Protective armour, musical instruments, and children's toys may also be of basketry, as well as weirs for fish and traps for game. For ornament we have abundant examples in the girdles, armlets and leglets common in Africa, America and the Pacific islands... They vary from the simplest type... to examples so intricate as to defy analysis or imitation. For this the hexagonal anyam gila or 'mad weave' of the Malays gives the best example, so called because the complications drive learners mad.

Baskets are a highly evolved material technology. (Whose precursors are to be found in non-human implements. Bird's nests are also a (somewhat more chaotic) basket technique.) (Encarta: Weaverbird, Bowerbird). As contradistinct to pottery, baskets are very adapted to nomadic lifestyle patterns. One can even state that baskets have the same significance as cultural implements for nomads as pottery has for sedentari. Because no remains of baskets usually show up in the archeological record, the importance and variation of their usage in prehistoric cultures must remain in the dark. The CM significance is accentuated by the intricacy of their patterns whose construction needs to be learned in an arduous process of cultural transmission in a master-apprentice setting in direct personal contact. A written description may be either too complicated to understand, or useless as instruction for reproducing them (Chambers 1968: Baskets, above). Ribeiro (1987: p. 57-68) as example in South Amerind societies.

Ribeiro (1987: p. 57): The subject of this article is the symbolic meaning of geometrical designs sketched out on basketwork of tribes from Haut Xingu, State of Mato Grosso, Brazil. These designs, apparently non figurative, show, according to their designation, representations of animals who play an important part in the economy and mythical corpus of these tribes. At the same time, repetition of these motifs is found in the decoration of other objects, through designs done by hand on paper and in body painting. Three general characteristics are found in the Haut Xingu art. First, its tendency to graphic metonymy; second, the variety of interpretations for the same pattern given by different tribes - or even individuals - contrasting with the momogeneity of the representation; third, the "stylistic code" nature which gives a "visual harmony" and an ideological unity to the Xinguanian cultural world.


Neuburger (1919: 245, 486), (Encarta: Papyrus / Egypt / Nile), Innis (1972: 16).
(Encarta: Papyrus): Papyrus, also paper reed, common name for a plant of the sedge family. The plant grows about 1 to 3 m (about 3 to 10 ft) high and has a woody, aromatic, creeping rhizome. The leaves are long and sharp-keeled, and the upright flowering stems are naked, soft, and triangular in shape. The lower part of the stem is as thick as a human arm, and at the top is a compound umbel of numerous drooping spikelets, with a whorl of eight leaves. Papyrus grows in Egypt, in Ethiopia, in the Jordan River valley, and in Sicily.
Various parts of the papyrus were used in antiquity for both ornamental and useful purposes, including wreaths for the head, sandals, boxes, boats, and rope. The roots were dried and used for fuel. The pith of the stem was boiled and eaten, but it was used mainly in making papyrus, the sort of paper that was the primary writing material of classical antiquity.
The papyrus of the Egyptians was made of slices of the cellular pith laid lengthwise, with other layers laid crosswise on it. The whole was then moistened with water, pressed and dried, and rubbed smooth with ivory or a smooth shell. The sheets of papyrus, varying from about 12.5 by 22.5 cm (about 5 by 9 in) to about 22.5 by 37.5 cm (about 9 by 15 in), were made into rolls, probably some 6 to 9 m (about 20 to 30 ft) in length. The Egyptians wrote on papyrus in regular columns, which in literary prose rarely exceeded 7.6 cm (3 in) in width; in poetry the columns were often wider in order to accommodate the length of the verse.
The Greeks seem to have known papyrus as early as the beginning of the 5th century BC, but the earliest extant Greek papyrus is believed to be the Persae of the poet Timotheus, who lived during the 5th and early 4th century BC. The use of papyrus for literary works continued among the Greeks and the Romans to the 4th century AD, when it was superseded by parchment. It was still used for official and private documents until the 8th or 9th century.
Scientific classification: Papyrus belongs to the family Cyperaceae. It is classified as Cyperus papyrus.

Felt and paper

(Encarta: Felt): Felt is a fabric built up by the interlocking of unspun wool fibers occasionally blended with small quantities of vegetable and synthetic fibers. True felt can only be made of fibers that are covered with minute, flexible, barblike scales, which allow the fibers to interlock when felted. Wool fibers, such as most sheep's fleece, are covered with well-defined scale structures; hair with poor scale definition, such as human hair, is not likely to felt... Felt making is one of the primitive arts, antedating weaving... The resilience of felt makes it the only substance suitable for dampers on pianos and other musical instruments.

Felt is a very durable material, because of its chaotic construction. When a thread in a woven textile breaks, this will soon lead to the destruction of the whole fabric, if it is not mended. The chaotic construction principle of felt gives a factor of redundancy, whereas the construction of a woven textile is non-redundant. In felt, the breaking of many fibers has no effect on the overall stability of the whole fabric. It is one of the most durable flexible materials, also among the oldest. Its durability made it ideal for lightweight flexible body armor, a one-centimeter layer of felt will safely protect against arrows and knives. Animal felt is watertight, if prepared appropriately. A material drawback is its low tensile strength. The very nature of felt makes it unpractical for embedding fine patterns into the material, but it is well suited for producing patterns onto.

Paper is a felt material of specific flax type vegetal fibers. The prime importance of paper as CMM is well known. A thorough discussion is in Sandermann (1997).

(Encarta: Paper): Paper, material in the form of thin sheets, manufactured by the webbing of vegetable cellulose fibers... The basic process of making paper has not changed in more than 2000 years. It involves two stages: the breaking up of raw material in water to form a suspension of individual fibers and the formation of felted sheets by spreading this suspension on a suitable porous surface, through which excess water can drain.

Spinning and weaving

(Encarta: Textiles / Weaving / Loom / Spinning Wheel), Neuburger (1919: 169-199). Gimbutas (1995: 29, 67-68) dates the technology from -6000 onwards .

Spinning and weaving are among the oldest and most important neolithic technologies. If we admit spiders and silkworms to the account, spinning technology is even much older than the neolithic by millions of years. (Encarta: Spider / Silk). Arachne, the lydian mythological heroine of weaving, gave this animal phylum the name. (Encarta: Arachne), Bachofen (1925: 309, 310).

Spinning and weaving has mostly been woman's work throughout the ages. An example is given in Illias 1, 31: histon epoichomenaen kai emon lechos anti osan - that she may serve me as weaver and consort for my bed. Homer (1994: I, 4). This is also reflected by many worldwide examples of mythologies of spinning women. Bachofen (1925: 309-315). The spinning and the weaving are often connected with highly fateful woman magic and sexual symbolism. In German and English we can find an association in the similarity of the word sounds Weben, Weib, wife, and weaving.

Bachofen (1925: 309-310): Unter dem Bilde des Spinnens iund Webens ist die Thätigkeit der bildenden, formenden Naturkraft dargestellt. Die Arbeit der großen stofflichen Urmütter wird dem kunstreichen Flechten und Wirken verglichen, das dem rohen Stoffe Gliederung, symmetrische Form, und Feinheit verleiht. Vollendet treten die Organismen aus dem Schooße der Erde hervor. Von der Mutter haben sie das kunstreiche Gewebe des Leibes... Darum verdient Terra vor allem die Bezeichnung daedala ... maetaer plastaenae... [477]

Bachofen (1925: 311): Die Durchkreuzung der Fäden, ihr abwechselndes Hervortreten und Verschwinden, schien ein vollkommen entsprechendes Bild der ewig fortgehenden Arbeit des Naturlebens darzubieten... so zeigt sich .. aufs klarste, welche erotische Bedeutung der Webarbeit und dem gekreuzten Ineinanderschlagen der Fäden zukommt. Als Kreuzung wird ... die Begegnung der beiden Geschlechter gedacht... und durch die Hieroglyphe des Kreuzes die geschlechtliche Mischung ... dargestellt...

Barthel (1996: 280): Ethnographische Beobachtungen bezeugen das Fortdauern der sexuellen Symbolik des Spinnens und Webens bei den Tzotzil in Chiapas... der breitgefächerten, dominierenden Rolle der Tlazolteotl als Große Göttin, Erzeugerin und Göttermutter... Alle Tlazolteotl-Formen, die im Codex Borgia mit dem Spindelattribut auftreten (Codex Borgia 12, 16, 23, 50, 55, 63, 74+59), lassen sich auf Phasen des weiblichen generativen Zyklus beziehen. Weiter können, wie Barthel (1976-86) gezeigt hat, mit den respektiven Seiten- (und Kapitel-) Zahlensummen bedeutungsvolle lunare Größen und ein "schematischer Schwangerschaftskalender" errechnet werden...

Barthel (1996: 289): Die Spindel als Zeitgröße wird in sinnvolle Perioden geordnet. Das Herstellen und Abmessen der "Tage" erfolgt durch die spinnende Große Göttin. Was mesoamerikanische Priester-Wissenschaftler hier gestaltet haben, besteht den Vergleich mit den spinnenden Schicksalsgöttinnen der Antike.

A prime mythological example are the greek fate goddesses, the Moirae: Klotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, and their nordic pendant, the Nornes: Urda, Verdani, and Skuld.

Hamilton, (1942: 43): Klotho, the Spinner, who spun the thread of life, Lachesis, the Disposer of Lots, who assigned to each man his destiny; Atropos, she who could not be turned, who carried "the abhorred shears" and cut the thread at death.
(Hamilton 1942: 313): Beside the root of YGGDRASIL was a well of white water, URDA'S WELL, so holy that none might drink of it. The three Norns guarded it, who: allot their lives to the sons of men / and assign to them their fate. The three were URDA (the Past), VERDANI (the Present), and SKULD (the Future). Here each day the gods came, passing over the quivering rainbow bridge to sit beside the well and pass judgement on the deeds of men.

Platon makes note of this highly mythological connection in mentioning the spindle of necessity in his Republic, as related by Marius Schneider (1990: 30) [478]:
Schneider (1990: 30): Versuche... die Klänge der Sphärenmusik mit bestimmten Tönen zu identifizieren... die Stelle in Platons "Staat" (617 B)... mit der zentralen Idee der "Spindel der Notwendigkeit" verbunden ist: Diese Art von Poesie bildet in der alten Welt die mythologische Einkleidung eines durchaus ernst zu nehmenden philosophischen Hintergrundes... das Klingen der Sphären... Platon... schreibt: "Auf jedem Kreise (= Sphäre, die sich um die Spindel der Notwendigkeit zieht) saß eine Sirene, die sich mit ihm drehte und ihren Eigenton hören ließ, derart, daß alle 8 Stimmen einen großen Zusammenklang bildeten" Ferner heißt es, daß drei andere Frauen, jede auf einem Thron, in gleichen Abständen auf einem besonderen Kreis saßen. Es waren die Töchter der Notwendigkeit, Lachesis, Klotho und Atropos, die zusammen mit den Sirenen die Vergangenheit, die Gegenwart und die Zukunft sangen. Klotho (Gegenwart) bewegte zeitweise mit der rechten Hand den Außenkreis, Atropos (Zukunft) ergriff mit der Linken <30> die inneren Kreise, und Lachesis (Vergangenheit) packte mit beiden Händen abwechselnd bald die inneren, bald die äußeren Kreise an.

Textiles often serve a double role as functional elements of culture, providing for basic life support needs, and being at the same time a very suitable CMM. The patterns are very durable, as long as the textile will last. (This is, depending on wear and tear: 1 year to about 100. Permafrost and extremely dry climates have preserved specimens over several millennia, like in Inka and Egyptian graves). (Encarta: Inca / Egypt / Embalming).

There are three different ways to create markings {in / on} textiles:
1) Painting / printing onto the finished material. This is for example used in Batik (Encarta: Batik). This is the fastest technique, but less durable than the others.
2) Embroidery is a method to incorporate patterns after the basic fabric has been created. For example: Shipibo embroidery as described by Gebhart-sayer (1987: 268-275), and her exhibition of Shipibo specimens that can be visited in the Univ. of Tübingen ethnological collection.
3) Weaving by using differently colored yarns.
Typical examples of textile CMS are the andean weaving patterns as described by Silverman (1991), Boone (1994), Barthel (1971), Scharlau (1986). The Anatolian kelims have gained a measure of prominence since Mellaart claimed that their patterns are identical to those found in Chatal Hüyük, thus implying an unbroken tradition of about 8,000 to 10,000 years, transmitted exclusively in a female lineage (Mellaart 1989: II,63-68, IV,1-15).
The technical process of introducing patterns into the material is typically slower for type 2) and 3), and therefore not very practical for administrative use (space oriented according to Innis), but rather for long-time traditions, as the example of Mellaart emphasizes.

Rugs, Carpets

(Encarta: Rugs and Carpets). Introductory material, Ford (1997). Rugs and Carpets combine weaving and knot systems . This results in extremely durable and wear-resistant fabrics. The oldest well preserved Pazyryk carpet is 2400 years old, but there are earlier literature references, like in Homer. Ford (1997: 13, 33, 35). Oriental carpets are prime examples of the use for CM. This field has been widely covered, so that an extensive study would explode the present project. Hofmacher (xxxx) is an upcoming dissertation devoted to the subject [479]. Alfred Schinz relates from a personal visit to an Iraq carpet workshop that the girls there were producing the patterns after a song that a work leader sang to them (personal communication).

14.3.3. Composite CMM materials

From many societies are known composite constructions using organic and non-organic elements. Most conspicuous are (colored) beads of glass or (precious) stone or certain conch seashells (cowrie) that are stringed or mounted on threads or basketwork. These are usually classed as ornament or art, but it since their production is a craft that needs to be learned and is passed down in the generations, it is also part of the CMS. There are well known cases of their CMT use, like the ingenious Melanesian stick charts used by navigators of the South Pacific "that represent a complex communication scheme that is as different from Western writing as one can imagine." (Aveni 1986: 261-266). These devices were used to map ocean wave refraction and reflection patterns that originated from chains of islands as they are typical for the South Pacific, and correlate these patterns with star positions.

[464] According to the re-markable theory of some researchers, the origin of all marking is in the leaving of urinary sexual scent marks on objects of the environment: Kohl (1995: 127). ->:SMELL, p. 149
[465] This seeming infinite regress is solved: ->:MEANING_OFMEANING, p. 225, ->:NEURONAL_PATTERN, p. 124
The interpretant is being re-interpreted as the said neuronal patterns in the cognitive system, plus its recursive coupling with the environment which is indeed an endless reverberation to and fro, continuing forever without being bounded by the dissolution and recycling (death) of individual organic entities.
[466] ->:CULTURE_PATTERN, p. 132, ->:WITTGENSTEIN, p. 198
[467] ->:LIT_CULTMEDIA, p. 140
[468] But, as can be seen from the current self-destruction of millions of books made with acid-containing wood paper, there are hidden side effects possible, that act as veritable time-bombs in our cultural memory stores. (Sandermann 1997: 231-249).
[469] Dr. Alfred Schinz had a longtime experience to Mesopotamia as a city planner in Iraq, and was a student of Walter Andrae, the restorator of the Ishtar gate in Berlin.
[470] Parchment was rewriteable, of a sort: The term palimpsest denotes a parchment that had been scraped off to remove its content and written anew. (Encarta: palimpsest).
[471] ->:OLD_EUROPE, p. 176
[472] Except gold which is found as pure metal deposits and can be worked cold. Copper similarly, but not to the same extent.
[473] The wood scarcity of Mesopotamia was notable as remarked by Vajda (1995: 23) and the ubiquitous clay provided only a poor subsitute material. ->:ANCIENT_MESOPOT, p. 167
[474] ->:RITUAL_FLAYING, p. 148
[475] It is also likely that the origin of fiber arts belongs to the female side of human history: the oldest "cultural implement" of mankind may turn out to have been the baby carrying sling, not a stone. (Taylor 1997: 39). Perhaps the current greenhouse warming effect will eventually help us. As more mountain glaciers and Siberian permafrost sheets melt, there may eventually be a find of the mentioned one-million year old rope and braid proving the hypothesis.
[476] overlooking the use of the quillca system as described in the work of Barthel (1971) and Silverman (1991) for the moment. These woven patterns are very time-consuming to produce and therefore not suited for short-term and ad-hoc usages.
[477] The forming power of physis is expressed in the phyein.
[478] ->:GIMBUTAS_WHORL, p. 177
[479] Dissertation in progress 1997. (Inst. f. historische Ethnologie, Frankfurt, Prof. Dr. Christian F. Feest, Tel. 069 798 22120.)

Previous Next Title Page Index Contents Site Index