The oldest known engravings made by Neanderthals were discovered on the wall of a cave in France.
The finding, made by researchers at the University of Tours, was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE. The discovery was made at La Roche-Cotard cave in the Center-Val de Loire of France. It involves a series of non-figurative markings on the wall, which the team interpreted as finger-flutings, marks made by human hands.
"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 researchers said.
What do the engravings tell us about Neanderthals?
Though Neanderthals have been extinct for tens of thousands of years, their genetics still make up anywhere from 1% to 4% of the human genome.
Typically, symbolic creations attributed to Neanderthals are few in number, according to the study, these include, for example, engravings on bones or pieces of rock.
The research team inferred that based on the shape, spacing, and arrangement of the markings, they were deliberately created by humans in an organized fashion. They called the engravings unambiguous examples of Neanderthal abstract design.
Early hominid life is widely accepted to have originated in Africa, with evolution eventually resulting in the rise of modern humans, who would migrate out of Africa and spread all over the world.
One of the branches of this evolutionary tree was the Neanderthal, Homo neanderthalensis. At an unknown point in history, Neanderthals diverged from their predecessor and lived in Eurasia until they died out around 40,000 years ago.
Aaron Reich contributed to this report.