For the past several decades, the scientific community assumed that Neanderthals were incapable of abstract thought of expression. They believed that the extinct cousins of modern humans were simple and brutish creatures. But mounting evidence from more and more discoveries have routinely debunked those assumptions. Now there is ample evidence that we might have underestimated Neanderthals’ intellectual capabilities.

Neanderthal cave art

Art was not exclusive to modern humans

The latest evidence comes from the Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. A series of criss-crossed lines scratched into a rock about 40,000 years ago indicate that Neanderthals were more creative and intelligent than previously believed. A team of international scientists who studied the Gorham’s Cave site said these engravings were the first known examples of Neanderthals’ abstract artwork. The study was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Art has long been considered to be exclusive to modern human species Homo sapiens. Researchers examined grooves in a rock which was covered beneath undisturbed sediments. The same site has also yielded Neanderthal tools in the past. To understand how the engravings were made, scientists made experimental grooves using different tools and cutting actions on dolomite rock, similar to the one present at Gorham’s cave. Their experiment showed that the ancient engravings were not an accidental origin.

Neanderthals, not modern humans, created those engravings

Today we know that Neanderthals intentionally buried their dead, lived in larger social groups, looked after their sick, adorned themselves with feathers, and consumed a more varied food than scientists had previously assumed. However, not everyone is convinced with the latest finding. A recent study examined the dating of several archaeological sites in Europe indicated that the ancient artifacts may have been made by modern humans rather than Neanderthals.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, modern humans arrived in Europe about 45,000-43,000 years ago. And Neanderthals disappeared about 40,000 years ago, leaving thousands of years of overlap. But Prof Clive Finlayson is confident that the newly discovered engravings were created by Neanderthals, not modern humans. All the Neanderthal fossil sites in Europe have the same technology associated that was used to scratch the criss-crossed lines on the rocks of Gorham’s cave. No European modern human site has this type of technology.