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Could these cave wall marks be the oldest Neanderthal “finger paintings”?  – Ars Technica

Could these cave wall marks be the oldest Neanderthal “finger paintings”? – Ars Technica

Zoom in / Examples of inscriptions discovered in the Roche-Cottard Cave in France. (Left) A ‘circular panel’ with arch motifs. (Right) A ‘wavy plate’ with two adjacent slits forming zigzag lines.

Archaeologists have concluded that a series of inscriptions discovered on the wall of a cave in France were made by Neanderthals using their fingers, some 57,000 years ago. These could be the oldest signs found to date and further evidence that Neanderthal behavior and activities were more complex and diverse than previously thought, according to new leaf Published in the journal PLoS ONE.

As Keona Smith previously reported for Ars, evidence that Neanderthals could think symbolically, create art, and plan a project has accumulated over the past several years. For example, about 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals in France spun plant fibers into thread. In central Italy, between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals used birch bits to hold their stone tools in place, which required a lot of planning and intricate preparation. In 2016, we reported on archaeologists announcing that a group of Neanderthals had extracted hundreds of stalagmites from the floor of a cave inside Bruniquel Cave in southern France to build elaborate circular structures, their work illuminated only by fiery light.

Archaeologists have also unearthed several pieces of bone and rock from the Middle Paleolithic – a time when Neanderthals had most of Europe to themselves – carved with geometric patterns such as intersecting slots, zigzags, parallel lines and circles. This may mean that the ability to use symbols did not originate with modern humans.

For example, in 2018, archaeologists claimed that the uneven lines observed in the soft, chalky outer layer of a small, thin crust of flint were deliberate marking. It was found in the Kiik-Koba Cave, which overlooks the Zuya River in the Crimean Mountains. The engraved chip came from a layer dated between 35,486 and 37,026 years ago. Archaeologists found the skeleton of an infant Neanderthal in the same layer, leaving no doubt about who lived in Kek-Koba when the stone tools were made and used.

In 2021, archaeologists announced that they had found a geometric design similar to a “chevron counterbalance” carved into the second phalanges, or toe bone, of a giant deer in a cave now called the Einhornhall in the Harz Mountains in northern Germany. The carver was almost certainly a Neanderthal, based on the radiocarbon age of the bones, because no one but a Neanderthal lived in Europe until about 45,000 years ago.

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The authors argued that this was a legitimate project; It took imagination to plan out the design and figured out that a few odd lines would add to a more intricate pattern. It took resources and planning to put together the tools, and it took time and effort to actually carve the pattern, plus a good supply of sharp little flint blades. Researchers can attest to that Because they tried it themselves, using bovine phalanges and blades of hand-screwed Baltic flint, it was more than likely that a North German Neanderthal bone carver would have access to it.

Neanderthals in Spain painted cave walls and made shell jewelry coated with ocher pigment about 64,000 years ago. The art analyzed in the caves of La Pasega, Maltravieso, and Ardales is unmistakably Neanderthal. Uranium and thorium dating of the rocks deposited on the paintings in the three caves indicates that the paintings cannot be less than 64,000 years old. Unlike the first Homo sapiens Who did not turn up until 20,000 years after the cave rocks began flowing into the art, Neanderthals lived in the area for at least 243,000 years.

And in a sea cave called Cueva de los Aviones, on Spain’s southeastern coast, archaeologists have found shells decorated with red and yellow dye that have holes punched into a string. They are generally assumed to be jewelry, which is another type of symbol. Here too, flowing water deposited tuff stone over the layer of sediment in which these shells were found. The dating of uranium and thorium said that the flux stone couldn’t be younger than 114,000 years. In fact, it predates every similar group of artifacts found so far by at least 20,000 to 40,000 years.

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Trine Frisleben and Jean-Claude Marquet discuss fingerprinting and where OSL sampling takes place.
Zoom in / Trine Frisleben and Jean-Claude Marquet discuss fingerprinting and where OSL sampling takes place.

The inscriptions analyzed for this latest paper were discovered in a cave called La Roche-Cotard on the banks of the Loire River in France, first discovered in 1912 after the entrance was uncovered during an 1846 quarry. The cave was excavated again in the 1970s and again as of 2008. Among the discoveries was a flat piece of flint called “La Roche-Cotard maskBecause it was in the shape of a face and a piece of bone was pushed through a hole, thought to represent the eyes latest estimate It places its history around 75,000 years ago. Archaeologists are still divided on whether flint is an example artistic expression In Neanderthals or whether more practical object.

There were also seemingly orderly inscriptions on the walls resembling finger-marks (“finger strings”), as well as sporadic red spots. There were other marks too, identified as either left by animal claws, natural smoothing of the walls through repeated contact with animal fur, or metal tools used during the 1912 excavations—oh, and one recent painting from 1992. Jean-Claude Marquet decided from the University of Tours and a number of colleagues took a closer look at the fingertips to provide a more detailed description and prove that they were indeed Neanderthal fingermarks.

The team first dated samples from the cave sediments using a technique called Optically stimulated brilliance (OSL) dating, which determines the time since the last time a sedimentary grain was exposed to daylight. They concluded that the cave was sealed by sediment brought in by the Loire flood about 57,000 years ago, much earlier. Homo sapiens He made his way to the area. The authors wrote that stratigraphic dating yielded an earlier date of around 75,000 years ago, making this “the oldest ornate cave in France, if not Europe.” Since the only stone tools found in the cave over the past century are those associated with Neanderthals, this provides two lines of evidence to support the hypothesis that Neanderthals created fingertips.

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3D animated model of the ornate main wall of the Roche-Cottard Cave.

Marquette et al. The entire cave is also modeled with Photogrammetry In order to more accurately locate the inscriptions and to carefully distinguish between the different types of monuments. They focused on the suspicious fingertips for further analysis, then drew copies of the paintings and carefully noted their detailed notes. The team concluded that the marks were intentional, structured, and intentional shapes – for example the tracings in the shape of an arc, or two adjacent tracings forming squiggly lines.

“There is little graphic evidence associated with Neanderthals, mainly on moving objects (pebbles, slabs, and bones), rather than walls,” the authors write. “In contrast, the walls of La Roche-Cotard testify to something different: the frequent repetition of thoughtful gestures, organized in space on the surfaces of the walls and in relation to the grotto as a whole.”

To determine whether the bumps were made by some kind of tool or with fingers, the team conducted an ex situ experiment in an experimental cave: a nearby cavity dug into the same type of rock (turone yellow fluff) three or four centuries ago. They created similar marks on the walls of the experimental cave using flat fingers, edged fingers, bone, wood, horn, flint, and metal points. They then used photogrammetry on the experimental panels and compared them to those in the La Roche-Cotard grotto and compared the edges of the ancient fingers to more recent marks thought to have been made with metal tools in 1846. They concluded that the edges were indeed traced by human fingers.

The symbols are abstract rather than symbolic, so one can only speculate about their meaning or why they were made, although it is clear that the signs were intended, according to Marquet et al. The authors conclude, “We cannot prove whether they represent symbolic thinking.” “However, our understanding of the relationship between Neanderthals and the symbolic and even aesthetic realms has undergone a major shift over the past two decades, and the remains preserved in the La Roche-Cotard cave make a new and very important contribution to our knowledge of Neanderthal behavior.”

DOI: PLoS ONE, 2023. 10.1371/journal.pone.0286568 (about DOIs).