First Neanderthal rock engraving found in Gibraltar Cave

Related Articles

The first example of a rock engraving attributed to Neanderthals has been discovered in Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, by an international team.

Credit : F. d'Errico
Credit : F. d’Errico

Dated at over 39 000 years old, it consists of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into rock.

 

Its analysis calls into question the view that the production of representational and abstract depictions on cave walls was a cultural innovation introduced into Europe by modern humans. On the contrary, the findings, published in PNAS on September 1, support the hypothesis that Neanderthals had a symbolic material culture.

The production of representational and abstract depictions on cave walls is seen as a key stage in the development of human cultures. Until now, this cultural innovation was considered to be a characteristic feature of modern humans, who colonized Europe around 40 000 years ago. It has also frequently been used to suggest that there were marked cognitive differences between modern humans and the Neanderthals who preceded them, and who did not express themselves in this way. The recent discovery in Gorham’s Cave changes the picture.

It consists of an abstract engraving in the form of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into the bedrock at the back of the cave. At the time it was identified it was covered by a layer of sediment shown by radiocarbon dating to be 39 000 years old. Since the engraving lies beneath this layer it is therefore older. This dating, together with the presence of Mousterian2 tools characteristic of Neanderthals in the sediments covering the engraving, shows that it was made by Neanderthals, who still populated the south of the Iberian peninsula at that time.

Researchers at the PACEA Laboratory (CNRS/Université de Bordeaux/Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication) undertook a microscopic analysis of the engraving, produced a 3D reconstruction of it, and carried out an experimental study, which demonstrated its human origin. The work also showed that the engraved lines are not the result of utilitarian activity, such as the cutting of meat or skins, but rather that of repeatedly and intentionally passing a robust pointed lithic tool3 into the rock to carve deep grooves. The lines were skilfully carved, and the researchers calculated that between 188 and 317 strokes of the engraving tool were necessary to achieve this result.

The discovery supports the view that graphic expression was not exclusive to modern humans, and that some Neanderthal cultures produced abstract engravings, using these to mark their living space.

CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Roman Villa of Tiberius and the Cave of Imperial Pleasure

The Villa of Tiberius is a ruined Roman villa complex located in the present-day town of Sperlonga, in the province of Latina on the western coast of Italy.

Archaeologists Excavate 1,600-Year-Old Burial Containing Ornate Treasures

Archaeologists excavating a burial ground have discovered a grave containing ornate grave goods from the 5th century AD, a period of instability during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Settlements Associated With “Polish Pyramids”

Archaeologists conducting a detailed study of the area near the Kujawy megalithic tombs, dubbed the “Polish Pyramids”, have identified the associated settlements of the tomb builders.

Rocky Planet Discovered in Virgo Constellation Could Change Search For Life in Universe

A newly discovered planet could be our best chance yet of studying rocky planet atmospheres outside the solar system, a new international study involving UNSW Sydney shows.

Sungbo’s Eredo – The “Queen of Sheba’s Embankment”

Sungbo’s Eredo is one of the largest man-made monuments in Africa, consisting of a giant system of ditches and embankments that surrounds the entire ljebu Kingdom in the rain forests of south-western Nigeria.

Woolly Mammoths May Have Shared the Landscape With First Humans in New England

Woolly mammoths may have walked the landscape at the same time as the earliest humans in what is now New England, according to a Dartmouth study published in Boreas.

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

Popular stories

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.