Whether or not the symbols are actually writing depends on what you mean by “writing”, says d’Errico. Strictly speaking, a full system must encode all of human speech, ruling the Stone Age signs out. But if you take it to mean a system to encode and transmit information, then it’s possible to see the symbols as early steps in the development of writing. That said, cracking the prehistoric code (see “What do they mean?“) may prove impossible. “Something we call a square, to an Australian Aborigine, might represent a well,” says Clottes.