Neanderthal at La Roche-Cotard!

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Marquet el al, “The earliest unambiguous Neandethal engravings on cave walls: La Roche-Cotard, Loire Valley, France”, PLoS ONE 18(6): e0286568, 2023.

An article was recently published in the journal PlosOne reporting the discovery of engravings made by Homo neanderthalensis at the La Roche-Cotard cave. This cave, located in the Touraine region, more precisely at Langeais in Indre-et-Loire, was discovered in 1846. Several excavations were carried out on this site in 1912, in the 1970s and in 2008. This study reveals that the cave was first occupied by carnivores, then by humans and finally by hyenas, before the entrance was blocked and the cave became inaccessible until its discovery in 1846.

The human beings who lived in this cave were Neanderthals. How do we know? Thanks to dating, scientists have been able to determine that the cave entrance was blocked by sediment around 57,000 years ago. Consequently, this cave was occupied over 57,000 years ago, and at that time our species, Homo sapiens, had not yet arrived in Europe, the only species present being Homo neanderthalensis. What’s more, the tools found at the site are typical of the Mousterian, a culture strictly associated with Neanderthal in Europe.

Several marks and traces have been identified on the cave walls. These have been classified according to their origin. This ranking was based on experiments and statistical studies. Some of the marks are carnivore claw marks, but some are man-made and correspond to digital tracings. Digital tracings are lines or geometric shapes created with the fingers on an initially soft surface. This type of tracery is part of the various forms of cave art and can be found at other sites in Europe and South Africa, for example. The authors conclude that these tracings are the result of a creative process within the cave. This discovery proves, if proof were needed, that Neanderthals were capable of artistic, and perhaps even symbolic, practices!

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