France’s La Roche-Cotard Cave Holds Neanderthals’ Oldest Known Engravings

Neanderthals created the oldest known engravings found in a French cave called La Roche-Cotard, as per a study by Jean-Claude Marquet and colleagues at the University of Tours, France. Dated to be over 57,000 years old, these engravings, made by human hands, indicate cultural complexity among Neanderthals, paralleling early Homo sapiens.

In La Roche-Cotard, located in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France, a team of researchers led by Jean-Claude Marquet of the University of Tours identified a series of markings on a cave wall, believed to be finger-flutings made by Neanderthals. The researchers employed plotting analysis and photogrammetry to create 3D models of these markings and compared them to known human markings. Based on their shape, spacing, and arrangement, the team concluded that these engravings are deliberate and organized shapes created by human hands.

Additionally, the research team dated the cave sediments using optically-stimulated luminescence dating and found that the cave was sealed off by sediment approximately 57,000 years ago. This timeframe is well before Homo sapiens settled in the region. The presence of Mousterian stone tools, associated with Neanderthals, within the cave provides strong evidence that the engravings are indeed the work of Neanderthals.

While the engravings are non-figurative symbols, and their intended meaning remains uncertain, the age of these symbols is comparable to cave engravings made by early Homo sapiens elsewhere in the world. This finding contributes to the growing evidence that Neanderthals exhibited cultural behaviors and activities that were as complex and diverse as those of early Homo sapiens.

The authors highlighted the significance of their discovery, stating, “Fifteen years after the resumption of excavations at the La Roche-Cotard site, the engravings have been dated to over 57,000 years ago and, thanks to stratigraphy, probably to around 75,000 years ago, making this the oldest decorated cave in France, if not Europe!”

The study was published on June 21, 2023, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

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