When most people think of Neanderthals, they think of unintelligent brutes. Turns out, Neanderthals may have had an eye for the arts. Granted, four lines might not be much, but art is considered an abstract expression seen only in our own species.

Researchers spotted the engraving in a cave in Gibraltar, located on the southern tip of Europe. What makes this find special, is that it was spotted beneath undisturbed sediments. Besides the engraving, researchers also found Neanderthal tools.

Details of the find were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at this cave, called Gorham’s Cave. They’ve been hunting for Neanderthal artifacts since the 1980s according to Nature. Previous discoveries included what they ate. Fish, shellfish and birds were staples for the Neanderthals living here.

The engraving discovery didn’t happen until 2012 when researchers spotted a small, hidden passage. The above engravings have been described as the size of a frisbee and are several millimeters deep.

The sediment covering the engravings dates back to Neanderthals and are up to 45,000 years old. That’s why researchers believe Neanderthals are responsible for the engravings.

What do they mean? Researchers don’t have a solid answer. They could be a map. Or art. They are confident the engravings were created deliberately, though according to Nature.

Not everyone’s convinced. Nature spoke to one anthropologist who says the sediment could have moved around, making the etching seem older than it really is. As for the art itself? Harold Dibble, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told Nature, “It takes more than a few scratches – deliberate or not – to identify symbolic behavior on the part of Neanderthals.”

Here’s a video showing the engravings in detail.

Image credit: Stewart Finlayson


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