Neanderthals, long assumed to be simple, early forms of human beings, whose looks characterise them as brutish creatures, have shown signs of being more considered and creative than the species has previously been given credit for.
In a cave in Gibraltar, where Neanderthal tools have already been discovered, a set of marks thought to be over 39,000 years old have been found scratched into a rock, which could be examples of art.
The geometric scratches, which resemble the grid of a noughts and crosses game, were discovered by Professor Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum and colleagues, when examining the floor of Gorham’s cave on the island.
The New Scientist reports that the thick layer of clay lying immediately on top of the rock in the cave, which was “littered” with remnants of the fires burned by the Neanderthals, shows that the etchings were made more than 39,000 years ago.
Finlayson’s colleague Francesco d’Errico carried out a number of experiments using Neanderthal tools to determine whether the deep cuts in the rock were made purposefully, or whether they could have been made while trying to cut through meat or something similar.
But d’Errico said that the results of his experimentation showed that “this was not idle doodling,” as it “required a lot of effort” to get such deep indentations in the rock.
Similarly, the scratches made from cutting meat did not create the same lines: “Every time you cut over the meat what comes out is a different shape,” he said.