A recent discovery has revealed that Homo sapiens were not the first “artists” of cave engravings in the world. The discovery of fingerprints dating back 57,000 years confirms this.
The study took place in France and has become the oldest known human-made engraving. However, what is most surprising is that its creator is a much older species than previously believed: the Neanderthals.
The oldest cave engravings: Not the work of Homo sapiens
They were discovered in La Roche-Cotad, in the Centre-Val de Loire region in north-central France. After the cave was used as a meeting place by prehistoric humans, it was sealed for thousands of years by frozen sediments. It was rediscovered in the 19th century and excavated in the 20th century.
On the cave walls, a series of “finger-flutings” or marks made with fingers were found. Some are circular, others have a wavy shape.
Experts from the University of Tours recently used optically stimulated luminescence dating, discovering that the cave engravings are approximately 57,000 years old. This makes it clear that Homo sapiens is not responsible, as they had not yet settled in that part of Europe at that time.
Several stone tools were also found, suggesting that the site was used by a community of prehistoric humans. The tools were made in a specific style known as “Mousterian,” a technology associated with Neanderthals. This is further evidence that Homo sapiens were not responsible.
The marks are imprinted on the soft sediment of the cave wall, and it is believed that they were not made by mistake. After analyzing their shape and arrangement, the team concluded that they had organization and intention.
Other expressions of Neanderthal art
The closest comparison to other “experimental” human marks was with the well-known “fingerprints of La Roche-Cotard.” These were made as an active expression of creativity.
But there are older examples of human artwork. In the Cave of Ardales, in southern Spain, there is a collection of painted cave stalagmites believed to date back 65,000 years. These were also created by Neanderthals.
Beyond cave engravings, the oldest known art attributed to Homo sapiens is a pot-bellied pig found in Indonesia dating back 45,000 years.
It is surprising that our distant relatives, the Neanderthals, have been portrayed as simple cave dwellers lacking the cognitive abilities of our species. But that idea has been discarded over time.
A wealth of evidence shows that Neanderthals were much more intelligent creatures. They created cave engravings, cared for their communities, and developed rich cultures. While their extinction is not yet fully understood, it is almost certain that it was not due to their intellectual capacity.
The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.