This Carving May Prove Neanderthals Were Artists
Carving dates to 39K years ago; Neanderthals disappeared around that time
By Shelley Hazen,  Newser User
Posted Sep 2, 2014 11:57 AM CDT
This undated image provided by Journal shows a Neanderthal rock engraving at Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar.   (AP Photo/Courtesy of Stuart Finlayson via Journal)

(Newser) – An ancient etching inside a cave in Gibraltar may mean that Neanderthals' knuckles weren't dragging quite as much as we believed, reports the BBC. The design suggests Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thinking, a trait once believed to be unique to modern humans, anthropologist Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum argues in a new study. The 39,000-year-old design was carved in a visible spot so it could have marked cave ownership by a certain group, been part of a map, or even been ritualistic in nature. The design—eight long lines crossing with three shorter ones, as per Reuters—was carved with 317 purposeful strokes into hard dolomite with a stone point. "Is it art? Is it a doodle? I don't know, but it is clearly an abstract design," Finlayson tells National Geographic.

This new find doesn't stand alone in the quest to prove Neanderthal smarts. Recent studies show Neanderthals may have tanned hides, buried their dead, decorated their bodies with feathers and pigment, worn jewelry, played a bone "flute," and decorated a Spanish cave. But some scientists say the indirect dating—done with 294 stone tools found in sediment above the carving—doesn’t definitively link it to Neanderthals, the AP reports. And despite no evidence of humans in the area at this time, the period is one of human emigration to Europe, so it's possible they were behind the carving. Finlayson isn't deterred: "No modern human site in Europe has this type of technology. So we are confident that the tools were made by Neanderthals."