Some of the earliest-known cave drawings were from Neanderthals, not humans, and they’re 57,000 years old – DNyuz

Some of the earliest-known cave drawings were from Neanderthals, not humans, and they’re 57,000 years old

Neanderthals may have left engravings on the walls of a French cave 57,000 years ago. According to an article in PLOS One ., the markings were among the oldest examples of ancient human artwork.

This discovery is just the latest of a number that suggests Neanderthals were not as primitive as thought.

The oldest Neanderthal cave engravings

The markings are made up of lines, squiggles, and dots, likely made by fingers instead of tools. In particular, the dips and ridges resemble what might be left behind if you lightly raked your fingers through damp sand.

This is a prehistoric technique called finger fluting, which involves dragging fingers across a soft surface. It’s much easier to make marks on tuffeau, a soft limestone that is found in the walls of caves.

Using a method called photogrammetry, the researchers from the University of Tours in France mapped the marks and created 3D models. The authors concluded that the placement and spacing of the marks and traces indicated “intentionality and precision”.

That said, whether the carvings were symbolic to whoever made them is another question entirely, said Shara Bailey, a biological anthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the study. Researchers admit that it is impossible to be certain.

“Although the finger tracings at La Roche-Cotard are clearly intentional, it is not possible for us to establish if they represent symbolic thinking,” the authors wrote.

In contrast, a 44,000-year-old cave painting by Homo sapiens is more representative of what the artist would’ve seen, with human-like figures hunting pigs and a water buffalo.

Neanderthals were probably more advanced than we thought

Though early researchers considered Neanderthals less advanced than humans, more recent findings have complicated that view. Evidence suggests Neanderthals buried their dead, made jewelry, and built complex structures.

“It is always intriguing to discover sites which suggest Neanderthals made art. The question that remains, however, is how similar they were.

Neanderthals lived in Europe long before Homo sapiens arrived. Though there’s evidence modern humans were in France 54,000 years ago, their presence wasn’t more widespread until 45,000 years ago.

The La Roche-Cotard Cave, where the markings were found, was sealed between 51,000 and 60,000 years ago, according to samples the researchers collected and dated measuring ionized radiation levels through a method called optically stimulated luminescence dating

The timing for when the cave was sealed would likely rule out the possibility that modern humans made the carvings. In addition, stone tools known as Mousterian lithics were the only artifacts in the cave, and the style is associated with Neanderthals and not Homo sapiens in Western Europe.

More research is needed

There may be other explanations for the markings, whether from animals or other natural phenomena. And while the authors claim these are the oldest examples of Neanderthal cave art, previous findings may challenge that, if confirmed.

In 2018, researchers estimated a group of Spanish cave paintings were 65,000 years old and made by Neanderthals. However, other experts claimed there may have been errors in the uranium-thorium dating technique, and humans may have painted the red and black geometric shapes.

Ultimately, if the findings are confirmed, the La Roche-Cotard Cave discovery may add to a more sophisticated understanding of Neanderthals, even if it’s not clear what the markings represented or were used for.

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