A series of lines scratched into rock in a cave near the southwestern tip of Europe could be proof that Neanderthals were more intelligent and creative than previously thought.
The cross-hatched engravings inside Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar are the first known examples of Neanderthal rock art, according to a team of scientists who studied the site. The find is significant because it indicates that modern humans and their extinct cousins shared the capacity for abstract expression.
The study, released Monday by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined grooves in a rock that had been covered with sediment. Archaeologists had previously found artifacts associated with Neanderthal culture in the overlying layer, suggesting that the engravings must be older, said Clive Finlayson, one of the study’s authors.
“It is the last nail in the coffin for the hypothesis that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans,” said Paul Tacon, an expert in rock art at Australia’s Griffith University. Tacon, who was not involved in the study, said the research showed that the engravings were made with great effort for ritual purposes, to communicate with others, or both.