Cavemen smarter than we thought
A series of lines scratched into rock in a cave near the southwestern tip of Europe could be proof that Neanderthals were more intelligent and creative than previously thought.
The cross-hatched engravings inside Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar are the first known examples of Neanderthal rock art, according to a team of scientists who studied the site.
The find is significant because it indicates that modern humans and their extinct cousins shared the capacity for abstract expression.
The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, examined grooves in a rock that had been covered with sediment.
Archaeologists had previously found artefacts associated with Neanderthal culture in the overlying layer, suggesting that the engravings must be older, said Clive Finlayson, one of the study's authors.
"It is the last nail in the coffin for the hypothesis that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans," said Paul Tacon, an expert in rock art at Australia's Griffith University.
"We will never know the meaning the design held for the maker or the Neanderthals who inhabited the cave but the fact that they were marking their territory in this way before modern humans arrived in the region has huge implications for debates about what it is to be human and the origin of art," said Tacon.