186 — A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar

Rodríguez-Vidal et al (10.1073/pnas.1411529111)

Read on 22 February 2018
#neanderthal  #archaeology  #anthropology  #gibraltar  #engraving  #caves  #symbolism  #paleolithic  #cognition  #art  #iberia 

I was just in Gibraltar and this would have been such a cool area to visit. Let this be a lesson to always learn about your destination before going on vacation.

In Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar there is a bedrock floor carving that spans less than a single square meter that includes thirteen deep gashes carved into the rock. Based on carbon dating and several other methods, the researchers were able to establish that this was ① carved more than 39,000 years ago, and ② most likely carved by Neanderthals.

This particular carving is interesting for a few reasons. First, it appears to be art: There is no clear functional purpose, and the lines weren’t carved by coincidence: It took many strokes of a sharpened tool to make these marks. And second, if the artist was indeed a Neanderthal, then that makes this the first record of Neanderthals performing abstract expression of thoughts.

Even though much of the modern literature confirms that Neanderthals possessed the mental and cognitive capacity of modern humans, this use of abstract geometries to express abstract thoughts was previously assumed to be a capability of modern humans exclusively. So this discovery is evidence of Neanderthal art and, by proxy, Neanderthal cognition.

This paper was one of the first that I’ve read in a topic with which I’m unfamiliar where I had an actively difficult time following the terminology, which was a really novel experience. A lot of the sentences had me proverbially reaching for the proverbial dictionary multiple times! But it was a very well-written paper with a clear narrative.