Neanderthals made deliberate, organized ahapes 57,000 years ago

According to a recently published study in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jean-Claude Marquet and colleagues from the University of Tours, France, the oldest engravings made by Neanderthals have been discovered on a cave wall in France. This finding sheds light on the artistic and symbolic expression of Neanderthals, which has been a subject of limited knowledge and debate.

The cave in question, La Roche-Cotard, is located in the Center-Val de Loire region of France. The researchers identified a series of non-figurative markings on the cave wall, which they interpreted as finger-flutings created by human hands. To analyze these engravings, the team employed plotting techniques and photogrammetry to generate 3D models. By comparing the shape, spacing, and arrangement of the markings with known human engravings, the researchers concluded that they were intentional and organized shapes deliberately created by Neanderthals.

Animated 3D Model: The main decorated wall of the Roche-Cotard cave. Credit: Marquet et al., PLOS ONE, 2023, CC-BY 4.0 (

In addition to their analysis of the engravings, the team employed optically-stimulated luminescence dating to determine the age of the cave sediments. The results revealed that the cave had been sealed off by sediment infilling approximately 57,000 years ago, a time period predating the establishment of Homo sapiens in the region. Furthermore, the stone tools found within the cave belonged to the Mousterian technology, which is strongly associated with Neanderthals. These findings provide compelling evidence that the engravings were indeed created by Neanderthals.

Although the meaning behind these non-figurative symbols remains uncertain, their age aligns with cave engravings produced by Homo sapiens in other parts of the world. This discovery contributes to the growing body of evidence suggesting that Neanderthals exhibited a similar level of complexity and diversity in their behaviors and activities as our own ancient ancestors.

Examples of engravings discovered in the Roche-Cotard cave (Indre et Loire–France). On the left, the “circular panel” (ogive-shaped tracings) and on the right the “wavy panel” (two contiguous tracings forming sinuous lines). Credit: Jean-Claude Marquet, CC-BY 4.0 (

According to the authors, after fifteen years of resumed excavations at the La Roche-Cotard site, the engravings have been dated to more than 57,000 years ago, and potentially as far back as 75,000 years ago based on stratigraphy. This remarkable finding establishes the cave as not only the oldest decorated cave in France but potentially in all of Europe.

Source: Public Library of Science

Leave a Comment