February 22, 2024

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French cave signs may be the oldest known inscriptions made by Neanderthals

JC Marquet

The researchers concluded that the markings on the panels in the La Roche-Coutard cave in France’s Loire Valley were intentional shapes and patterns created by human hands.

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Lines, swirls and dots on the walls of a cave in France, made by dragging fingers across relatively soft rock, are the oldest known engravings made by Neanderthals, according to a new analysis of ancient markings.

A team of researchers, led by Jean-Claude Marquet of the University of Tours in France, believes that the signs “show an intentional creative process,” The study published in the journal PLOS ONE On Wednesday note.

The study concluded, “The artifacts preserved in the La Roche-Cotard cave make a new and very important contribution to our knowledge of Neanderthal behaviour.”

discovery adds to A growing body of evidence that Neanderthals – who were described as stupid cave dwellers – were inventive creatures and more complex than the stereotype would suggest.

Neanderthals “deliberate formation”

To understand how the markings work and whether they are intentional, the researchers made detailed 3D models of the petroglyphs from images of a Loire Valley cave using a process known as photogrammetry.

At the same time, the team conducted experiments in a nearby cavity drilled from the same type of rock 300 to 400 years ago. The researchers created similar marks on the wall—using bone, wood, horn, flint, and metal points, in addition to their own fingers—and made similar 3D models out of those, too.

JC Marquet

Examples of reliefs include a circular plate (left) with traces of a plunger and a corrugated plate with two adjacent slits forming zigzag lines.

They used the information and measurements they gathered to distinguish the different types of marks visible on the walls of the Loire Valley cave and determine whether they were made by animals or humans and whether they are ancient or made since 1912, when the cave was first excavated.

Based on the shape, spacing, and arrangement of these reliefs, the team concluded that the markings in eight panels in the La Roche-Cotard cave were intentional shapes and patterns created by human hands.

Most of the patterns, known as finger threading, were made by laying the fingers flat, with little to no fingering edge. Six of the panels averaged 1.5 to 1.7 meters (4.9 to 5.6 ft) above the ground.

The researchers said that the threads of the fingers would have been much deeper and less accurate if they had been used to collect rock powder for some purpose.

Instead, they believed that the eight panels formed “a group that appears organized on the longer, more regular wall farther from the cave entrance” and that the design of these graphic, non-formative designs on the cave wall was “a deliberate composition, which is the result of a thought process that gave rise to conscious design and intent”, According to the study.

The researchers weren’t able to directly date the inscriptions, but — using optically stimulated luminescence dating that measures when the mineral in the sediment was last exposed to sunlight — they estimate that the marks were made at least 57,000 years ago when the cave became sealed.

this date, Coupled with the fact that all the stone tools inside the cave are Mousterian, a style associated with Neanderthals, is strong evidence that these engravings are the work of extinct Stone Age hominins, according to the study.

Neanderthals are considered separate from Homo sapiens, our species, but they are from a close branch of the human family tree. The two groups overlapped in Europe for thousands of years, mixing and having children before the Neanderthals became extinct. Most people alive today have traces of Neanderthal DNA.

The study authors note that the oldest widely accepted evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe dates back to 45,500 years ago in Bulgaria, although recent discoveries suggest this Humans may have been in France even earlier.

It has long been debated whether Neanderthals had an artistic sensibility. At some cave sites in Spain, there is evidence – albeit controversial – that Neanderthals created abstract motifs and hand stencils.

Archaeologists also believe that Neanderthals wore ornaments made of shells, bird claws, and Carved deer bones.

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