The first comes from CBC.
Researchers from 11 European institutions reported that deep in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, they found carvings that resemble nothing so much as a rococo Twitter hashtag: eight partially crisscrossing lines with three shorter lines on the right and two on the left, incised on a shelf of bedrock jutting out from the wall about 40 centimetres above the cave floor.
The engraving is covered by undisturbed sediment that contains 294 previously discovered stone tools. They are in a style long known as the signature of Neanderthals, who had reached Europe from Africa some 300,000 years ago.
Standard techniques had dated the tools at 39,000 years old, about when Neanderthals went extinct, meaning the art below it must be older.
Modern humans, who painted the famous caves at Lascaux in France and Altimira in Spain, by then had not reached the region where Gorham’s Cave is located.
The researchers ruled out the possibility that the engravings were accidental or from cutting meat or animal skins. Instead, they were made by repeatedly and intentionally using a sharp stone tool to etch the rock, reflecting persistence and determination: one line required at least 54 strokes and the entire pattern as many as 317.
The second comes from National Geographic.
The analysis was very detailed and suggests the cross-hatching could not have been made by animals, says carbon dating expert Tom Higham of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “The markings are significant if made by Neanderthals and would add to the increasing amount of information implying that they were capable of thinking in more or less abstract ways.”
The team suggests the ledge at the rear of the cave is where Neanderthals rested, protected behind fires at night from Europe’s long-ago predators: lions, hyenas, and wolves. “It was a perfect place to rest and carve something,” Finlayson says.
No evidence exists that modern humans were in this region of Europe more than 39,000 years ago, which leaves only Neanderthals to explain the engraving.
The study says this is the first abstract design found that could not have been made by modern humans, concluding, “It follows that the ability for abstract thought was not exclusive.”
I think that one reason contemporary humans wanted to believe that Neanderthals weren’t up there with human beings, at least insofar as intelligence goes, is that we don’t want to believe that beings quite like ourselves could ever have disappeared. We’d like to imagine that we’re uniquely special, somehow.