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First known Neanderthal cave carving found in Gibraltar cave

Neanderthals left a purposefully carved symbol in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. The purpose and meaning of the symbol are not known and may never be known. The discovery of the first known cave drawing created by Neanderthals was the work of anthropologists, paleontologists, and chemists from France, Spain, and Britain. The discovery was presented in the Sept. 1, 2014, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Neanderthal rock engraving from Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar.
Image courtesy of Stuart Finlayson.

The cross hatched pattern dates to at least 39,000 years ago and was found in a cave that was a known habitat of Neanderthals. The cave carving had been covered by other Neanderthal artifacts and mineral deposits. Chemical analysis of the cave carving indicates that it was produced before the mineral deposits occurred. Physical analysis and comparison to known geological cracking in the same area indicates the cave carving was made with a sharp stone implement. The depths of the carvings indicate an intent and purpose behind the carving and not accidental creation from daily activities.

Neanderthals have been proven to have the technology to produce sharp stone spearheads for hunting. The same implements are considered to be the most likely tool used in creating this first known Neanderthal cave carving. The researchers contend that this symbol was made with a purpose although what that purpose was will probably never be known. The purpose may have been a tribal symbol, a map, a religious symbol, or art.

The mental sophistication that is required to produce a symbolic representation of an idea is thought to distinguish man as a superior intellect. This discovery indicates that Neanderthals were capable of the same mental function that is required to produce symbolic representations of ideas. Potentially a Neanderthal Michelangelo left his Pieta in a cave in Gibraltar.