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The missing link between cave drawings and modern writing may have been made with some 10,000-year-old stone carvings from Syria, the New Scientist reported.

The stones, taken from the left bank of the river Euphrates, carry ancient pictograms. Danielle Stordeur of the Institute of Oriental Prehistory near Nimes said the pictograms were an intermediate form of communication - more advanced than stone-age cave drawings but not as advanced as real writing.

The flat, oval rocks depict, among other things, an insect connected to something that looks like an owl, a snake, arrows and zigzags. Stordeur said her group would have to find more carvings to decipher the meaning. The area is due to be flooded next year when the Tichrine dam is built. A German priest has given scientists a better chance of discovering how Saturn got its rings, when an international space probe starts its seven-year voyage to the planet next year. East German books, rescued from the scrap heap by Martin Weskott, a Lutheran pastor, have provided the recipe for a ceramic material essential to a spectrometer for the Nasa Cassini probe. Modern ceramics, designed to expand and contract as little as possible, would split apart when bonded to glass if the rates of expansion are not similar, whereas older materials such as magnesium silicate are much more similar. Forget the Freemasons. A new communications system could turn the handshake from a simple greeting to a sophisticated means of transferring information. …