Finger marks on a cave wall in France were created prior to the arrival of Homo sapiens in the region.
According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE by Jean-Claude Marquet and colleagues from the University of Tours, France, the oldest engravings made by Neanderthals have been discovered on a cave wall in France.
Over the past few decades, research has shed light on the cultural sophistication of Neanderthals. However, our understanding of their symbolic and artistic expression remains limited.
Only a short list of symbolic productions is attributed to Neanderthals, and the interpretation of these is often the subject of debate. In this study, Marquet and colleagues identified markings on a cave wall in France as the oldest known Neanderthal engravings.
The cave is La Roche-Cotard in the Centre-Val de Loire of France, where a series of non-figurative markings on the wall are interpreted as finger-flutings, marks made by human hands.
Animated 3D Model: The main decorated wall of the Roche-Cotard cave. Credit: Marquet et al., PLOS ONE, 2023, CC-BY 4.0
The researchers made a plotting analysis and used photogrammetry to create 3D models of these markings, comparing them with known and experimental human markings. Based on the shape, spacing, and arrangement of these engravings, the team concluded that they are deliberate, organized, and intentional shapes created by human hands.
The team also dated cave sediments with optically-stimulated luminescence dating, determining that the cave became closed off by infilling sediment around 57,000 years ago, well before Homo sapiens became established in the region.
This, combined with the fact that stone tools within the cave are only Mousterian, a technology associated with Neanderthals, is strong evidence that these engravings are the work of Neanderthals.
Because these are non-figurative symbols, the intent behind them is unclear. They are, however, of a similar age with cave engravings made by Homo sapiens in other parts of the world. This adds to a growing body of evidence that the behavior and activities of Neanderthals were similarly complex and diverse as those of our own ancestors.
The authors add: “Fifteen years after the resumption of excavations at the La Roche-Cotard site, the engravings have been dated to over 57,000 years ago and, thanks to stratigraphy, probably to around 75,000 years ago, making this the oldest decorated cave in France, if not Europe!”
Reference: “The earliest unambiguous Neanderthal engravings on cave walls: La Roche-Cotard, Loire Valley, France” by Jean-Claude Marquet, Trine Holm Freiesleben, Kristina Jørkov Thomsen, Andrew Sean Murray, Morgane Calligaro, Jean-Jacques Macaire, Eric Robert, Michel Lorblanchet, Thierry Aubry, Grégory Bayle, Jean-Gabriel Bréhéret, Hubert Camus, Pascal Chareille, Yves Egels, Émilie Guillaud, Guillaume Guérin, Pascale Gautret, Morgane Liard, Magen O’Farrell, Jean-Baptiste Peyrouse, Edit Thamó-Bozsó, Pascal Verdin, Dorota Wojtczak, Christine Oberlin and Jacques Jaubert, 21 June 2023, PLOS ONE.