Europe’s Oldest Engravings: A Neanderthal Masterpiece from 75,000 Years Ago

In a groundbreaking archaeological revelation, scientists have unearthed what they believe to be the oldest known “intentional engravings” in Europe. These intricate etchings, believed to be the handiwork of Neanderthals up to 75,000 years ago, were discovered inside the Gorham’s Cave complex in Gibraltar.

The discovery of these engravings is not just an addition to the inventory of ancient art, but it also provides fascinating insights into the cognitive abilities of our long-extinct relatives, the Neanderthals. These findings have the potential to alter our understanding of early human cognition and artistic expression.

Unearthing a Prehistoric Canvas

This epoch-making discovery was made in the Gorham’s Cave complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Mediterranean coast of Gibraltar. The cave has been a treasure trove for archaeologists, providing rich evidence of Neanderthal occupation over thousands of years.

The engravings, found on a bedrock exposed at the back of the cave, are a series of intersecting lines creating a distinct pattern. They were carefully etched into the rock, suggesting purpose and intention behind their creation, hence earning them the title of “intentional engravings”.

Decoding the Engravings

The engravings themselves depict a complex, abstract design of deeply incised intersecting lines. The pattern, while not representing any identifiable figure or symbol, is nonetheless indicative of a level of cognitive ability previously not associated with Neanderthals.

The discovery breaks away from the stereotypical view of Neanderthals as brutish and intellectually inferior beings. The complexity of the design points towards advanced cognitive processes such as planning, deliberate execution, and an understanding of symbolism.

Determining the Age

Determining the age of these engravings was no easy feat. The team of scientists used a method called uranium-series dating, which measures the radioactive decay of uranium traces present in the calcite layers formed over the engravings. With this method, they were able to estimate the engravings to be between 45,000 to 75,000 years old, making them the oldest of their kind in Europe.

Significance and Future Research

The discovery of these engravings is a significant leap forward in our understanding of Neanderthals. It challenges the stereotype of these early humans as lacking symbolic thought, and presents a case for their ability to understand abstract representations.

The implications of this finding stretch far beyond the realm of archaeology. It opens up new avenues for research in cognitive science, anthropology, and evolutionary biology. It urges us to revisit our understanding of human cognitive evolution and the development of artistic expression.


In conclusion, these engravings offer a glimpse into the mind of the Neanderthals, showcasing their capacity for abstract thought and creativity. As we delve deeper into this fascinating period of human history, we continue to unravel the complexities of our ancient ancestors, challenging our preconceived notions and enriching our understanding of our own species’ journey through time.

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