A recent study published in the journal Nature reports that two unexplained stone rings found in a French cave were likely built by Neanderthals over 175,000 years ago though the researchers have non idea what it is that they are suppose to be. The report published online yesterday comes a couple of years after the discovery of possible Neanderthal art on the back wall of a cave in Gibraltar, something that baffled researchers.
Neanderthals construction using stalagmites
Our Neanderthal cousins were largely viewed to be, well, a bit thick. However, following a find made in 1990 by spelunkers and then explored by an archaeologist. The Bruniquel Cave is in the southwest of France and it’s clear that the stalagmites were chopped to a reasonably standard height of about 16 inches in height and arranged into two oval patterns about 1,000 deep into the cave. A rockslide at sealed the cave for upwards of 10,000 years and the Neanderthal “construction” was essentially untouched. That archeologist died in 1990. Three years ago, a team lead by Jacques Jaubert of the University of Bordeaux return to the site and dated them to 176,500 years ago “making these edifices among the oldest known well-dated constructions made by humans.”
“Their presence at 368 yards from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity,” he wrote in the Nature.
“The origin of the structures is undeniably human. It really cannot be otherwise,” he told The Associated Press.
“It was very strange,” added Geologist Dominique Genty with France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), who also studied the site. “it was kind of obvious that it was not natural.”
But what are they?
It’s quite clear that these were not used in any sort of astronomy project like a miniature Stonehenge. Instead they just made them? Jaubert believes that groups must have made regular trips together deep into the caves agreeing to build the structures together.
“These are exceptional tours, certainly for extraordinary reasons we do not yet know,” said Jaubert.
The structures measured 25 square feet and a much more impressive 172 square feet and the researchers believe they were likely used in some sort of ritual, but again, they have no idea.
“What is most surprising for me is that this discovery is showing that Neanderthals ventured underground and far away from any source of natural light,” said Archaeologist and Neanderthal specialist Marie Soressi with Leiden University in the Netherlands when interviewed by NPR.
While she wasn’t involved in the exploration of the cave or the study, she is one of the foremost experts on our ancient ancestors that even passed on a bit of their DNA (about 3%) to us.
“I think … we have by now many different lines of evidence to show that Neanderthals, and even Neanderthals 200,000 years ago, had cognitive abilities not so different from our direct ancestors,” she added.
So, the next time you’re looking to derogatorily refer to someones intelligence you might want to lay off the use of Neanderthal, that said the group still has no idea what they are looking at, just that they are looking at something unseen before the required tools and a group effort a long time ago.