A proof for graphing activity in Neanderthals
An article by C. Finlayson from Gibraltar museum and his Spanish colleagues regarding an engraving on a wall of Gorham Cave at Gibraltar [Rodríguez-Vidal et al., 2014] was published in recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Science from September 2, 2014. The engraving was discovered during an excavation of an undisturbed Mousterian culture layer dated before 39 thousand years ago (Fig. 1), and therefore should be older than that date.
The engraving is approximately 21x17 cm tool in size. It’s done by apparently a stone tool, and represents a lattice of irregular shape, formed by intersecting grooves carved on a limestone-dolomite cave wall surface (Fig. 2). Such a conclusion is supported by experiments attempting to replicate the carving process.
As it is well-known, most researchers do not agree that Neanderthals had any kind of artistic abilities. Apparently this specific finding contradicts such a statement. It is particularly interesting, as the engraving is dated in the latest period of Neanderthals existence in Europe – the time they cohabited with Modern Humans. The idea of such a cohabitation period was continuously criticized. However, a recent study by Higham and co-authors (2014) shows that Neanderthals disappeared in Europe around 39-41 thousand years ago, while Modern Humans arrived there a bit earlier – approximately 43-44 thousand years ago. According to the results, two hominid species could coexist at European continent for some time of roughly 2.6 - 5.4 thousand years.
Such a time period could be sufficient enough for the locals to adopt cultural experience from southern newcomers. Many people believe that acceleration of cultural dynamics previously absent in Neanderthals could be linked to Homo sapiens appearance. It looks like the engraving at the Gibraltar cave can be considered indirect evidence for this hypothesis. Genetic studies showing a certain “mixture” of Neanderthal genes in non-African Homo sapiens are in line with this hypothesis as well. Sapiens, in fact, also started not from magnificent cave drawings, but rather from awkward hatches, similar to the ones found on an ochre piece in Blombos cave (South Africa). Except that it had happened at least 35 thousand years earlier, and in Africa, not Europe.
Translated by Olga Vasileva
Editor of English version: Ella Jones
- Higham T., Douka K., Wood R. et al. The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance // Nature. 2014. 21 August. DOI: 10.1038/nature13621.
- Rodríguez-Vidal J., d’Errico F., Pacheco F.G. et al. A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar // Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. 2014. 2 September. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1411529111.