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Neanderthal Art: Finger Marks on Cave Walls

Researchers inspect markings made by Neanderthals on the wall of La Roche-Cotard cave in France

Kristina Thomsen, CC-BY 4.0

Neanderthals left their mark on the walls of a cave in France around 57,000 years ago, using their fingers to carve symbols. These engravings are believed to be some of the oldest examples of Neanderthal art and could potentially be the oldest of its kind.

“;The engravings could only have been made by Neanderthals,” states Jean-Claude Marquet, a researcher from the University of Tours in France. The presence of Neanderthal artifacts in the cave, along with the fact that the entrance was sealed by sediments until modern times, supports this conclusion.

The cave, known as La Roche-Cotard, is located in the Loire valley and consists of four chambers. Excavations have been taking place since 1912, with recent rounds starting in 2008.

Marquet explains that Neanderthals occupied the front chamber of the cave and had access to the second and third chambers. Several distinctive “Mousterian” stone tools, associated with Neanderthals rather than Homo sapiens, have been found during excavations.

The walls of the third chamber, known as the pillar chamber, are composed of tuff, a soft rock formed from volcanic ash. Inside this chamber, researchers discovered eight panels covered in markings. These markings include numerous finger-traced lines, some of which are straight while others form circles or ovals. Some of the lines appear to be arranged in larger patterns, and one panel even features a cluster of over 100 dots. It was observed that a subgroup of the engravings was made using tools like flint, antler, and wood instead of finger marks.

The meaning and interpretation of these engravings remain unclear. Marquet and his colleagues acknowledge the complexity in understanding their significance.

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