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Neanderthals Created Europe’s Oldest Engravings

Neanderthals Created Europe’s Oldest Engravings 75,000 Years Ago
By using the photogrammetry method, researchers in France revealed that Neanderthals created Europe’s oldest engravings 75,000 years ago. Credit: PLOS ONE / CC BY 4.0

Ancient engravings, believed to be the oldest in Europe, were recently discovered in a cave in France that had been closed off for thousands of years. However, it appears that these engravings were not created by our modern human ancestors but rather by Neanderthals, according to a new study.

In the cave, located 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Paris in La Roche-Cotard, the researchers carefully examined a series of non-figurative markings that were believed to have been made by ancient humans using their fingers. This study, published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday (June 21), sheds light on the remarkable artistry of our Neanderthal relatives.

For a long time, the cave remained inaccessible due to layers of sediment that had accumulated over the centuries. It was only in the late 19th century that excavations began, uncovering a wealth of stone tools whose style matched that typically associated with the Neanderthals.

Crafting abilities of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens

Figurative art, which includes wall paintings depicting various animals and handprints, has been widely recognized at European sites. These creations, dating back 35,000 years, provide a glimpse into the Upper Paleolithic culture.

For a long time, these works were believed to be exclusive to modern humans, showcasing their advanced behavior and artistic abilities.

However, recent discoveries have challenged this notion. Researchers have now unearthed even older examples of non-utilitarian objects and art in Europe and other parts of the world.

For example, in Germany, a chevron-engraved bone that dates back 51,000 years has been attributed to Neanderthals, suggesting their artistic capabilities.

In Indonesia, a drawing of a warty pig dating back 45,500 years has been credited to Homo sapiens. Additionally, in South Africa, a hashtag drawing that is an impressive 73,000 years old is also attributed to Homo sapiens ancestors.

More than 400 traces of ‘intentional’ abstract lines and dots

Triangular panel
Triangular panel. Credit: PLOS ONE / CC BY 4.0

During their exploration of the La Roche-Cotard cave, a team of researchers stumbled upon eight panels with over 400 intriguing traces consisting of abstract lines and dots. These markings, referred to as “engravings” by the researchers, were meticulously created through the deliberate removal of material using tools or fingers.

In their study, the researchers emphasized that these engravings were not accidental or created for practical purposes but rather intentional and executed with great care.

To unravel the mysteries surrounding the creation of these engravings, the researchers conducted an experiment in a similar cave setting.

In this experiment, one individual recreated the marks using various techniques such as finger painting, using bone, wood, antler, flint, and metal points against the cave wall.

Another person carefully observed and documented the resulting marks. The researchers employed an innovative method called photogrammetry, which involves capturing hundreds of photos to construct virtual 3D models.

This enabled them to compare the experimental marks with the ancient engravings found in La Roche-Cotard’s cave.

After an extensive analysis and comparison, the researchers reached a significant conclusion. They found that the experimental finger markings have the closest resemblance to the prehistoric engravings.

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