Engraving in stone - the first form of Neanderthal art?

About 39,000 thousand years ago, a Neanderthal man housed a cave on a coast of Gibraltar. Here he was protected from hyenas, lions, leopards and other dangers. Under the fire of a campfire, he or she used a stone tool to carefully gauge what looks like a grid or a hashtag (#) on a rock platform.
Archaeologists have discovered this enigmatic "sculpture" two years ago during a Gorham cave excavation. They discovered that the Neanderthal people were engraving signs on bones and instruments before, but had never seen such an engraving before. The researchers used neanderthal instruments to test how this geometric design was made. Thus, they excluded the possibility that this "artwork" was just an accident, a by-product of butchery, but they found that making the grid was a result of a migratory job.

"This was intended. It was not just a scratch or scratch on the surface of the stone, "said study investigator Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum. The discovery, however, leads to more difficult questions: does this engraving have any symbolic significance? Can it be considered art?

Close relatives?

The Neanderthal people crossed Eurasia 200,000 years ago until 30,000 years ago, when they disappeared mysteriously. These were the closest known kinsmen of modern man, and recent studies suggest that neaderthalians wore much more like humans than they thought: they buried the dead, used pigments and feathers to decorate the body, and many of them even "arranged" the caves.
Despite the fact that there is more and more evidence that Neanderthal people were cognitively similar to modern people, the lack of a form of art seemed to be the "last bastion" of the argument that Neanderthals were much more different than us, said Finlayson. "Art is something else - it's a clue of abstract thinking."

Recently, the archaeologists who discovered the typographical paintings in El Castillo cave (northern Spain) pushed back the date of their realization at 40,800 years ago, which opens the possibility that the Neanderthals have created these early artworks. Unfortunately, there is no (yet) solid archeological evidence to link them to the paintings.

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Gorham Cave

In the Gorhal cave, Clive Finlayson and his colleagues were surprised to discover a series of intriguing parallel lines deeply engraved into the stone after they wiped off the dust and cleaned the surface thoroughly. Roca was sealed under a layer of soil that contained muster stone tools (a long-styled Neanderthal style). Radiation carbon dating indicated that this layer is 30,500-38,500 years old, suggesting that the engraving was done before that time.

Gibraltar is one of the most famous sites of Neanderthal occupation. At the Gorham cave and the nearby caverns, archaeologists have found evidence that the Neanderthal people hunted seals, fried pigeons, and seized the feathers of prey birds. In other parts of Europe, the Neanderthal people have lived with modern people and may even have joined with them. But 40,000 years ago, the southern part of the Iberian peninsula was a Neanderthal people's bastion, an area where people were still not spreading.

To test whether this engraving was deliberately done, the researchers decided to try to recreate the grid on smooth cave surfaces using the same real stone tools left behind by archaeologists who excavated the site in the 1950s. They found that more than 50 stone incisions were needed to mimic the deepest line of the grid, and probably between 188 and 317 incisions in total to create the entire model. Their findings were published at the beginning of September in the "Proceedings" journal of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Finlayson and his colleagues also tried to cut the pork skin with the stone tools to test whether the lines were simply accidental signs left behind by the animals' slaughter. Following this process, they could not reproduce the engraving, which suggests that this was most likely done intentionally.
"You can not control lines if you cut through meat no matter how much you try. That would be irregular, "Finlayson said.

A simple grid does not represent Venus

The abstract mode of neanderthal expressionism does not impress today's art critics.
"It is very fundamental. It's very simple, "said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "It does not represent Venus, it is not a horse, it is not a bison."
At the end of the Stone Age, modern people established in Europe were already familiar with the arts. In the cave paintings of 32,000 years ago discovered in Chauvet caves (France), representations of at least 12 species of animals, including horses, mammoths and lions, were found. "There is a major difference between drawing 3 lines that any 3-year-old child could do and be able to make a bust of Venus," Hublin said. The oldest such sculpture dates back 35,000 years ago and was discovered in the Hohle Fels cave in Germany.

Other experts, including archaeologist Harold Dibble of the University of Pennsylvania, agree that these signs have been intentionally created, but I think the researchers need more than "a few scratches" to pinpoint the symbolic behavior of the people of Neanderthal.
"The symbol, by definition, has a certain meaning for a particular group of individuals, which is why they are often repeated. The question is not <> but rather <>. To answer this question and to prove that we are really looking at a symbol, it is very important that more such engravings are discovered, "Dibble said.

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