Neanderthal cave engravings more than 57,000 years old

Study researchers Trine Freiesleben and Jean-Claude Marquet discuss the fingerprints and where to take optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) samples so they can date the artwork. (Image credit: Credit: Kristina Thomsen; (CC-BY 4.0))

Markings on a cave wall in France are the oldest known engravings made by Neanderthals according to a study published June 21 2023 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jean-Claude Marquet of the University of Tours France and colleagues.Research in recent decades has revealed a great deal about the cultural complexity of Neanderthals. However relatively little is known about their symbolic or artistic expression. Only a short list of symbolic productions are 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 Center-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. 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.

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 in France, if not Europe.” 
Examples of engravings discovered in the Roche-Cotard cave (Indre et Loire – France). On the left, the “circular panel” (ogive-shaped tracings) and on the right the “wavy panel” (two contiguous tracings forming sinuous lines). (Image credit: Jean-Claude Marquet; (CC-BY 4.0))
Ancient figurative art including wall paintings is well-known from European sites with drawings of horses lions and handprints representing famous examples of Upper Paleolithic culture dating back 35000 years. For decades researchers thought that these creations were hallmarks of modern human behavior but recently researchers have unearthed older examples of non-utilitarian objects and art in Europe and in other areas of the world such as a 51000-year-old chevron-engraved bone in Germany created by Neanderthals however Homo sapiens are credited with a 45500-year-old drawing of a warty pig in Indonesia and a 73000-year-old hashtag drawing in South Africa.
Credits/More information: Marquet J-C, Freiesleben TH, Thomsen KJ, Murray AS, Calligaro M, Macaire J-J, et al.
The earliest unambiguous Neanderthal engravings on cave walls: La Roche-Cotard, Loire Valley, France, PLOS ONE (2023).     
Provided by Public Library of Science
Photo Credit: Jean-Claude Marquet, CC-BY 4.0 (