A study of a rock engraving in a cave in Gibraltar has found that the cross-hatched impression was likely created by Neanderthals and represents their capacity for abstract expression.
Previously-discovered cave art has been exclusively attributed to modern humans, who arrived in Western Europe around 40,000 years ago.
Ruth Blasco of the Gibraltar Museum and colleagues discovered an abstract pattern engraved in the rock of Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar.
The cross-hatched pattern was overlain by undisturbed sediment in which Neanderthal artifacts had previously been discovered, suggesting that the engraving pre-dated the 39,000-year-old artifacts.
Further geochemical analysis of the mineral coating on the engraved grooves suggests the rock art was created before deposition of the overlying sediment.
The authors studied the tool marks within the engraving, compared the marks with experimental marks made with various tools, and determined that the abstract cave engraving was likely created intentionally and not by incidental cutting associated with other activities.
The results of the study, published in the journal PNAS, add to evidence at other sites that Neanderthal intellectual capacity may have previously been underestimated, according to the authors.
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