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Neanderthal art found in cave could change what we know about the species

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Newly discovered abstract cave wall art suggests that the Neanderthals might not have been as dumb as we initially thought.

Although Neanderthals were probably still less intelligent than modern humans, this newly discovered art demonstrates what could be a sign of a major leap in human evolution.

Neanderthals are probably the species most closely related to modern humans. Researchers recently learned that the group took part in routines often associated with homo sapiens, such as burying their dead, using black and red pigments as makeup, wearing jewelry, and caring for the sick and elderly.

Although Neanderthals were once thought as a dumb species, these activities suggest that the species was capable of some complex thought.

Art is usually a sign of a more advanced intellect, but until recently, researchers have not found any Neanderthal art.

Now, though, on a cave wall in Gibraltar, researchers believe a carving that resembles a Tic Tac Toe board is the work of Neanderthals. A total of 11 European institutions studied the art, which consists of eight lines that cross each other. The artwork was previously undisturbed and was found near an area where nearly 300 tools, including some possibly used to make the art, were also found. These were tools specifically related to what we know about the Neanderthals.

"Originally, we could not quite believe what we had found and had to convince ourselves it was real," says Gibraltar Museum director Clive Finlayson. "Is it art? Is it a doodle? I don't know, but it is clearly an abstract design."

After dating the tools, researchers undeniably believe that the artwork is at least 39,000 years old. This would suggest that the artwork was not the result of modern humans, but of Neanderthals, as humans were not yet present in the region at that time.

Researchers also believe the lines were not the result of other less creative endeavors, such as cutting meat, and that they weren't created by animals. Someone deliberately drew the lines: each one required around 54 strokes.

If confirmed, this will be the first instance of Neanderthal art ever found and will change what we know about our less intellectual cousins.

"This engraving represents a deliberate design conceived to be seen by its Neanderthal maker and, considering its size and location, by others in the cave as well," says Finlayson. "It follows that the ability for abstract thought was not exclusive to modern humans."

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