The dot, or the very small, filled
circle, is one of the most common Western ideograms. It has been
used since the time of neolithic cave paintings and rock carvings. The
oldest artefact showing dots I know is a mammoth tooth found at Malta,
about 55 miles north-west of Irkutsk in Russia, close to the Mongolian
border. It is about 24,000 years old and shows spirals made up by
From time immemorial long rows of dots or points have been used as a way of giving structure to a sign without using lines. as a solitary complement to other structures, the point is a younger sign, but still very old. One of our earliest known ideograms is , the sun sign.
In the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, dots were seldom used, and when they were, they either meant grains of sand or grains of corn.
Small, shallow, round cavities are common on prehistoric rock carvings in northern Europe. They figure together with signs that seem to stand for the eclipsed sun, . The Swedish archeologist Göran Henriksson has studied these carvings for many years. In 1991 he made a break-through after having compared the configurations of the small cavities with the configurations of planets and stars at different times in the past with the help of computers. His findings indicate that these small cavities stand for planets and especially prominent fixed stars. The rock carvings seem to be records of solar eclipses. Signs for the sun and for the most prominent planet stars and fixed stars, as they were configurated at the time of the eclipse, have been carved into rock faces as records for future generations. Thus the configuration at the time of the solar eclipse of 1596 B.C. is recorded on at least three rock-carvings: one in Midlothian in Scotland, one in Ekenberg, Östergötland, Sweden, and one near the Lake Onega in Russia.
Whether the point is used separate from, or in conjunction with other structures it seems to denote something small or focused, or of short duration. This can be exemplified by the dot as an ideogram in musical notation meaning staccato, with distinct brakes between successive tones.
Dots combined with other ideograms can also enhance or intensify their meanings. See, for example, the signs and .
The dot can also denote a beginning, as in , or, as in , an end, a goal.
The dot, the line, the circle segment, and the two spirals constitute the basic elements by which all Western ideograms are designed.
One or more dots are signs associated with water and liquids in Western ideography. If the signs , shoal, and , submerged wreck, used on nautical charts are encircled by points as in and , this symbolizes that the items lie on the water's edge. And is an alchemical sign for urine, i.e. liquid on the ground.