Tag: stone age

Extraordinary’ 5,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Discovered

An ancient human footprint.
A 5,000-year-old human footprint discovered on the Danish island of Lolland.
Credit: Lars Ewald Jensen/Museum Lolland-Falster


Excerpt from livescience.com

When a pair of fishermen waded into the frigid waters of the southern Baltic Sea about 5,000 years ago, they probably didn't realize that the shifting seabed beneath their feet was recording their every move. But it was.




The long-lost evidence of that prehistoric fishing trip — two sets of human footprints and some Stone Age fishing gear — was recently discovered in a dried up fjord, or inlet, on the island of Lolland in Denmark. There, archaeologists uncovered the prints alongside a so-called fishing fence, a tool that dates back to around 3,000 B.C.


Archaeologists have found fishing fences before, but the footprints are the first of their kind discovered in Denmark, according to Terje Stafseth, an archaeologist with the Museum Lolland-Falster, who helped excavate the ancient prints. 


"This is really quite extraordinary, finding footprints from humans," Stafseth said in a statement. "Normally, what we find is their rubbish in the form of tools and pottery, but here, we suddenly have a completely different type of trace from the past, footprints left by a human being."


The Stone Age footprints were likely formed sometime between 5,000 B.C. and 2,000 B.C., Jensen said. At that time, the water level of the Baltic Sea was rising due to melting glaciers in northern Europe. Also at that time, prehistoric people were using these inlets as fishing grounds.

These individuals constructed elaborate traps, called fishing fences, to catch their prey. The wooden fences were built in sections several feet wide — thin switches of hazel suspended between two larger sticks — and the sections were lined up consecutively to form one long, continuous trap. The trap was placed in the shallow water of the fjord, which would be flooded with the incoming tide, the archaeologists said. When the fishermen wanted to move their gear, they would pluck the sections of the fence from the claylike floor of the fjord and move the whole apparatus to a new location.

"What seems to have happened was that at some point they were moving out to the [fish fence], perhaps to recover it before a storm," Jensen said. "At one of the posts, there are footprints on each side of the post, where someone had been trying to remove it from the sea bottom."



The archaeologists said the footprints must have been made by two different people, since one set of prints is significantly smaller than the other. Jensen and his team are now making imprints, or flat molds, of the footprints to preserve these ancient signs of life.

In addition to the human tracks, the team uncovered several skulls belonging to domestic and wild animals on the beach near the fjord.

The researchers said the skulls were likely part of offerings made by local farmers, who inhabited the region from around 4,000 B.C.

"They put fragments of skulls from different kinds of animals [on the sea floor], and then around that they put craniums from cows and sheep," Jensen said. "At the outermost of this area, they put shafts from axes. All in all, it covers about 70 square meters [83 square yards]. It's rather peculiar."

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Are we sending aliens the right messages?


(Nasa)


bbc.com

Artist Carrie Paterson has long dreamed of beaming messages far out to the emptiness of space. Except her messages would have an extra dimension – smell.

By broadcasting formulae of aromatic chemicals, she says, aliens could reconstruct all sorts of whiffs that help to define life on Earth: animal blood and faeces, sweet floral and citrus scents or benzene to show our global dependence on the car. This way intelligent life forms on distant planets who may not see or hear as we do, says Paterson, could explore us through smell, one of the most primitive and ubiquitous senses of all.
(Wikipedia)
It is nearly 40 years since the Arecibo facility sent messages out into space (Wikipedia)

Her idea is only the latest in a list of attempts to hail intelligent life outside of the Solar System. Forty years ago this month, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico sent an iconic picture message into space – and we’ve arguably been broadcasting to aliens ever since we invented TV and radio.

However in recent years, astronomers, artists, linguists and anthropologists have been converging on the idea that creating comprehensible messages for aliens is much harder than it seems. This week, Paterson and others discussed the difficulties of talking to our cosmic neighbours at a conference called Communicating Across the Cosmos, held by Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It seems our traditional ways of communicating through pictures and language may well be unintelligible – or worse, be catastrophically misconstrued. So how should we be talking to ET?

Lost in translation?

We have always wanted to send messages about humanity beyond the planet. According to Albert Harrison, a space psychologist and author of Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore, the first serious designs for contacting alien life appeared two centuries ago, though they never got off the ground.


In the 1800s, mathematician Carl Gauss proposed cutting down lines of trees in a densely forested area and replanting the strips with wheat or rye, Harrison wrote in his book. “The contrasting colours would form a giant triangle and three squares known as a Pythagoras figure which could be seen from the Moon or even Mars.” Not long after, the astronomer Joseph von Littrow proposed creating huge water-filled channels topped with kerosene. “Igniting them at night showed geometric patterns such as triangles that Martians would interpret as a sign of intelligence, not nature.”

But in the 20th Century, we began to broadcast in earnest. The message sent by Arecibo hoped to make first contact on its 21,000 year journey to the edge of the Milky Way. The sketches it contained, made from just 1,679 digital bits, look cute to us today, very much of the ‘Pong’ video game generation.  Just before then, Nasa’s Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes each carried a metal calling card bolted onto their frame with symbols and drawings on the plaque, showing a naked man and woman.

Yet it’s possible that these kinds of message may turn out to be incomprehensible to aliens; they might find it as cryptic as we find Stone Age etchings.

Antique tech

“Linear drawings of a male and a female homo sapiens are legible to contemporary humans,” says Marek Kultys, a London-based science communications designer. ”But the interceptors of Pioneer 10 could well assume we are made of several separate body parts (i.e. faces, hair and the man’s chest drawn as a separate closed shapes) and our body surface is home for long worm-like beings (the single lines defining knees, abdomens or collarbones.).”

Man-made tech may also be an issue. The most basic requirement for understanding Voyager’s Golden Record, launched 35 years ago and now way out beyond Pluto, is a record player. Aliens able to play it at 16 and 2/3 revolutions a minute will hear audio greetings in 55 world languages, including a message of ‘Peace and Friendship’ from former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. But how many Earthlings today have record players, let alone extraterrestrials?
(Nasa)
Our sights and sounds of Earth might be unintelligible to an alien audience (Nasa)



Time capsule

Inevitably such messages become outdated too, like time capsules. Consider the case of the Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization – a time capsule sealed on Earth in 1940, complete with a dry martini and a poster of Gone With the Wind. It was intended as a snapshot of 20th Century life for future humans, not aliens, but like an intergalactic message, may only give a limited picture to future generations. When, in 61,000 years, the Oglethorpe time capsule is opened, would Gone With The Wind have stood the test of time?


(Nasa)
This message was taken into the stars by Pioneer - but we have no idea if aliens would be able to understand it (Nasa)

Kultys argues that all these factors should be taken into account when we calculate the likelihood of communicating with intelligent life. The astronomer Frank Drake’s famous equation allows anyone to calculate how many alien species are, based on likely values of seven different factors. At a UK Royal Society meeting in 2010 Drake estimated there are roughly 10,000 detectable civilisations in the galaxy. Yet Kultys points out that we should also factor in how many aliens are using the same channel of communications as us, are as willing to contact us as we are them, whose language we hope to learn, and who are physically similar to us.

Another barrier we might consider is the long distance nature of trans-cosmos communication. It means that many years ‒ even a thousand ‒ could pass between sending a message and receiving a reply. Paterson sees romance in that. “Our hope for communication with another intelligent civilisation has a melancholic aspect to it. 
We are on an island in a vast, dark space. Imagine if communication… became like an exchange of perfumed love letters with the quiet agony of expectation... Will we meet? Will we be as the other imagined? Will the other be able to understand us?”

Ready for an answer?

Anthropologist John Traphagan of the University of Texas in Austin has been asking the same question, though his view is more cautious. "When it comes to ET, you'll get a signal of some kind; not much information and very long periods between ‘Hi, how are you?’ and whatever comes back. We may just shrug our shoulders and say 'This is boring’, and soon forget about it or, if the time lag wasn't too long, we might use the minimal information we get from our slow-speed conversation to invent what we think they're like and invent a kind concept of what they're after.”

(20th Century Fox)
The aliens in Independence Day (1996) did not come in peace (20th Century Fox)
While we have been sending out messages, we have not been preparing the planet for what happens when we get an interstellar return call. First contact could cause global panic. We might assume those answering are bent on galactic domination or, perhaps less likely, that they are peaceful when in fact they’re nasty.

Consider how easy it is to mess up human-to-human communications; I got Traphagan’s first name wrong when I e-mailed him for this article. An apology within minutes cleared up the confusion, yet if he had been an alien anthropologist on some distant planet it would have taken much longer to fix. He later confessed: "I could have thought this is a snooty English journalist and our conversation might never have happened."

Even if Earth’s interstellar messaging committees weeded out the typos, cultural gaffes are always a possibility. These can only be avoided by understanding the alien’s culture – something that’s not easy to do, especially when you’ve never met those you’re communicating with.

Rosy picture

So, what is the best way to communicate? This is still up for grabs – perhaps it’s via smell, or some other technique we haven’t discovered yet. Clearly, creating a message that is timeless, free of cultural bias and universally comprehensible would be no mean feat.


But for starters, being honest about who we are is important if we want to have an extra-terrestrial dialogue lasting centuries, says Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at Seti. (Otherwise, intelligent civilisations who’ve decoded our radio and TV signals might smell a rat.)

(Nasa)
The golden discs aboard the Voyager spacecraft require aliens to understand how to play a record (Nasa)

“Let's not try to hide our shortcomings,” says Vakoch. “The message we should send to another world is straightforward: We are a young civilisation, in the throes of our technological adolescence. We're facing a lot of problems here on Earth, and we're not even sure that we'll be around as a species when their reply comes in. But in spite of all of these challenges, we humans also have hope – especially hope in ourselves."


Yet ultimately what matters, says Paterson, is that they stop and consider the beings who sent them a message; the people who wanted to say: “Here are some important things. Here’s our DNA, here is some maths and universal physics. And here is our longing and desire to say “I’m like you, but I’m different.”

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Armenian site challenges assumptions about stone age technology



By Justin Beach, Daily Digest News



Many archeologists believe that Levallois technology was invented in Africa and then spread to Eurasia during a mass migration roughly 300,000 years ago. This view is so pervasive that it is generally used to mark the transition from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic era.

However, tools found at a site in Armenia demonstrate that the technological shift more likely happened independently, in a variety of human groups at different times rather than spreading en mass during the migration from Africa.

 
dailydigestnews.com
The site Nor Geghi 1, in Armenia, is preserved between two lava flows which occurred roughly 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. Ancient floodplain sediments between the lava flows contain a variety of archeological materials from the Paleolithic era. The dating of volcanic ash within the sediments show that the artifacts date from a 10,000 year period between 335,000 and 325,000 years ago.

Examples of both biface and, the more advanced Levallois technology are among the tools found at the site.


“The combination of these different technologies in one place suggests to us that, about 325,000 years ago, people at the site were innovative,” said Daniel Adler, associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

Biface technology involves chipping away pieces from a stone, in this case obsidian, to create a tool such as a hand axe. In biface technology the pieces chipped away are discarded. The Levallois technique demonstrates more efficient use of materials by exercising greater control over the chipping process. The chips removed using the Levallois technique were generally of a size and shape to be useful for other purposes.

“If I were to take all the artifacts from the site and show them to an archaeologist, they would immediately begin to categorize them into chronologically distinct groups,” said Adler.

However, a comparison of the tools along with similar tools from Africa, the Middle East and Europe demonstrates that the technological evolution was intermittent and gradual and occurred independently in a variety of populations, rather than all at once because of a demographic shift.

The research from Adler and his colleagues can be found in the September 26 edition of the journal Science.
 

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What Would You Take With You to the Afterlife? – Life, Death, Out-of-Body Experiences & the Journey of Consciousness




beforeitsnews.com
By Matthew Butler 

People save up for retirement, but how well do we prepare for the journey after? Ancient cultures put great emphasis on the afterlife, because they knew consciousness continued after death. They were right: Out-of-body experiences reveal we really do exist beyond the body. Knowing this truth should inspire us to seek in life what really matters and remains after death – awakened consciousness.

What is the greatest mystery of life? According to a legendary Q&A in the Indian spiritual epic the Mahabharata, the greatest wonder is that countless people die every day, yet those left behind believe they will live forever.
There is a well-known saying that the only certainty in life is death, but our hyper-connected modern society is not exactly inspiring much reflection on what lies beyond the transient.
People put aside savings for retirement, and some take out life insurance to take care of the loved ones they leave behind. This looks after physical needs, but what about the needs of consciousness which continues without the body? What preparations are made for its journey after death – the ultimate journey of a lifetime?
Religious institutions offer a solution to their followers that usually depends on adopting a set of beliefs rather than personal spiritual discovery.  On the other hand, some scientists will tell you with equal conviction that nothing comes after death, so don’t worry about it. Both of these points of view depend on belief, but what if, when the final moment comes, you realise you wasted the great opportunity your life provided? An alternative option is to discover for ourselves why we are here, and what  our place in the universe is, while we are alive and have the opportunity to do something with the knowledge we gain.
Ancient spiritual cultures almost universally placed importance on the individual’s preparations and journey into the afterlife. They clearly understood our existence extended beyond our bodies, and that life and death were best seen with the bigger picture of creation in mind – as part of an ongoing journey of consciousness – with life presenting an amazing opportunity for conscious evolution that we take the fruits from after death.
This was bought home to me in an interesting way during a trip to a museum exhibition showcasing ancient Egyptian afterlife cosmology; it reminded me of the universal nature of the afterlife, and how Near-Death Experiences and Out-of-Body Experiences offer us a glimpse into the reality of existence beyond the body, revealing that awakening consciousness is what creation is really all about.
With our modern culture drifting more and more into shallow short-sighted materialism and faux metaphysics, the need to re-discover and live this deeper purpose to life, so cherished by the ancients, is more important than ever.

A Journey into the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife

A while back I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a one-way self-guided tour through the ancient Egyptian afterlife, thanks to a special museum exhibition featuring artefacts from the British Museum collection.
The local museum was packed, and we had to wait in a queue before being allowed in. Finally we entered a dimly-lit passage thronging with people, winding past ancient Egyptian artefacts, artworks, tools, scriptures, and mummies.

Geb_Nut_Shu-300x202The exhibit started with depictions of ancient Egyptian cosmology like this. Here the sky goddess is held up above the earth.


It was arranged so that you went on an afterlife “journey” vicariously, stage by stage, in the way the ancient Egyptians understood it. It began with displays showing ancient Egyptian depictions of the world’s creation, and culminated with the judgement of the soul and its journey after death. In between you were shown artefacts demonstrating how ancient Egyptians understood and prepared for death.
There were ancient scrolls of the pyramid texts on display, and ancient art depicting the soul’s journey through the afterlife. A major theme in their art was judgement and the “weighing of the heart”, where a deceased person’s heart was weighed against a feather, and their fate was dependent on their inner qualities and the sum of their actions while alive. Toward the end of the exhibition they had a mockup display of this, with a large set of scales on which you could weigh your “heart” against a feather, while Egyptian Gods looked on from a mural.
After that, you passed into a depiction of the Egyptian paradise before stepping outside into the sunlight. I doubt the effect was intentional on the part of the exhibitors, but after passing through the exhibition’s dark passageway with its ordered depictions of the afterlife, judgment and then stepping into the light, I couldn’t help but think of accounts of near-death experiences, in which people often report passing through a dark tunnel toward the light, and experiencing a life review where they see the consequences of all their actions.

BD_Hunefer_cropped_1-300x231Depiction of the “weighing of the heart”

The exhibit really brought home to me how the ancient Egyptians understood they existed for a purpose that went beyond everyday life. Death was a doorway to the next stage of existence, and their lives were an opportunity to prepare for it. They knew we do not cease to exist when we die, and saw the quest for immortality through awakening consciousness as the real purpose to creation.
From looking at artefacts from different periods, it was apparent the ancient Egyptian understanding of death changed over time. It seemed to me that originally, the emphasis was on living spiritually and obtaining an immortality of the soul, while in later periods their understanding declined into more literal interpretations of preparing the body (rather than consciousness) for the afterlife through mummification, and a preoccupation with the arrangement of one’s burial and tomb with the right spells and amulets.
But I was vividly struck by how through that civilisation’s long and varied existence, the importance of the afterlife always reigned supreme, and being prepared for life after death was absolutely central to existence. Death, and therefore life, was taken very seriously.

I couldn’t help but notice a stark contrast between our modern culture and theirs. It was a bit like being in some kind of time warp, where two very different cultures collided. The artefacts of the Egyptians gave a sense of the sacredness of life and creation, but the bustling, noisy crowds of modern onlookers apparently saw this ancient preoccupation with the afterlife as mere novelty and amusement. How different ancient Egypt was to our modern society where the reality, and inevitability, of death is given little thought or preparation, and the understanding that consciousness continues after death is often summarily discounted and ridiculed.
I highly doubt that many people who attended the exhibition paused to reflect on whether they would continue to exist after death and, if so, how? And why are we here anyway? This was driven home when, just prior to reaching the scales of “judgement”, I noticed a whiteboard, styled with papyrus veneer, with a pertinent question written at the top.

What would you take with you to the afterlife?

Good question. A pen hung from the board, inviting people to write their response underneath. The answers ranged from the sentimental, to the mundane, to the silly.

WP_000293-EDIT1-1024x845How would you answer the question?

Some wanted to take their friends and family with them, while others wanted to take things like their iPhone, make-up, favourite band, football team, favourite rock star, chocolate, alcohol, and so forth.
A “time machine” was perhaps the only clever response. I could see the benefit of that if you realised you had wasted your life. I don’t think it’s really an option however.
This brought home how we don’t take death and the meaning of our lives anywhere near as seriously as we should today. The ancients knew a lot more about life and death than we do. We have lost their ancient wisdom, and with it the understanding of the amazing opportunity our existence in this universe presents.
This is a serious problem. Our consciousness will continue to exist without the body. But if we don’t question our existence and why we are here, we will not awaken consciousness and we will never reach our true potential.

Near-Death Experiences and the Reality of Existence Beyond the Body

Existence after death is not something the ancient Egyptians invented. Concepts of an afterlife are so common across geographically isolated cultures around the world that it cannot simply be dismissed as a coincidence. There may be cultural differences in the details, but the understanding that we continue existing without the body has been pretty much universal for thousands of years.
In fact, the burial of the dead and the realisation of an afterlife are considered some of the most important hallmarks of cultural development in Stone Age people. It was a sign of intelligence distinguishing people from animals, and paved the way for the development of more sophisticated civilisations.

Hieronymus_Bosch_013The medieval painting ‘Ascent of the Blessed’ by Hieronymus Bosch shows the light at the end of the tunnel common to NDE accounts

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) provide compelling anecdotal evidence that the afterlife mythologies of the world share a real common source and that consciousness exists beyond the brain. In NDEs, people who are clinically dead or close to death go through experiences that follow a pattern with universal traits, which they recall after being revived.
These include an out of body experience, where they leave their body and realise they are separate from it, perhaps seeing their body lying beneath them. Then they may go on a journey, which may feature common aspects like travelling through a tunnel, and a life review, where a person is shown everything they have done, and feels the effects of their actions toward others, whether good or bad.
Although some scientists speculate that these phenomena may be caused by the brain, the reality is that these experiences have occurred when patients are clinically brain dead, and it has not been proven these experiences are produced biologically. Furthermore, there is no ultimate proof that consciousness is produced by the brain anyway, although this is a strongly-held assumption among those entrenched in materialistic beliefs.
NDEs challenge rigid materialistic beliefs about life. In light of the prevalence and commonality of NDEs, some scientists now suggest that consciousness interacts with the brain rather than being produced by it. Rather, the brain is a conduit through which consciousness can express itself, much like the way a computer is a conduit for the internet, but the internet continues to exist when the computer is switched off.
NDEs are increasingly reported in the modern world due to improvements in health care leading to more people being revived, but they are also an ancient phenomenon. Research by the scholar Gregory Shushan found there are universal afterlife experiences which underpinned both modern NDE accounts and ancient afterlife mythologies. His research involved an in-depth comparative analysis of afterlife conceptions of five ancient civilisations (Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumerian and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, Vedic India, pre-Buddhist China, and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica) and compared them to modern NDE accounts. He demonstrated that, although there were some variations in the details based on the cultural origin, there were specific recurring similarities that reappeared too consistently to be mere coincidence, suggesting that, “afterlife conceptions are not entirely culturally-determined and… appear to be universal or quasi-universal to some degree”.

Life is an Opportunity to Awaken Consciousness

Realising that you are consciousness, and continue to exist without the body, awakens you to the bigger picture of life. It puts your whole life in perspective.
In an NDE life review, people tend to see that what really matters in life is not how much money they made or what they achieved in a given field, but how they treated other people, and whether they acted with love. These experiences tend to change people’s lives, inspiring them to be more spiritual.
afterlife
Discovering you exist beyond the body can be a life-changing revelation

We do not need to have an NDE to verify that we exist without the body, or to have life-changing experiences. Through astral projection, we can have wilful out of body experiences and use these mystical experiences to learn about ourselves and make positive changes in our lives.
Realising that we exist beyond the body can open the door to awakening. You realise that what really matters in life is not what we gain physically, but developing consciousness. Then the question, “what will you take with you to the afterlife” becomes much more meaningful. You can’t take physical things with you when you die like your iPhone, but you can take consciousness. Then you see that the focus on the afterlife in ancient cultures was not a preoccupation with death, but a deep understanding of life, and how to live it in the most meaningful way to bring spiritual benefits to yourself and others, the effects of which continue after death.
States like anger, greed and hatred have their consequences in the world which are bad enough, but who wants to take these states with them to afterlife? If these states don’t bring happiness here, why drag them along after death? Expressions of consciousness like love, wisdom and inner peace are much  better qualities to carry within. By awakening and expressing consciousness in a world filled with ignorance, hatred and darkness, we not only help to make the world a better place, but continue to carry these spiritual qualities in our consciousness when our body is left behind.
Understanding this is so important today. We live in a society bombarded with elite-controlled propaganda and entertainment that not only hides the darker agendas working in the world, but blankets people in ignorance, keeping us from uncovering the deeper potential of our consciousness and empowering ourselves by striving to awaken – which enables us to break free of the grip of darkness that exerts its influence over humanity. Failing to wake up to this agenda has it implications in the world, and also for our consciousness, and it’s consciousness that really counts, both in life and beyond.
So what would you take with you to the afterlife?

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What Would You Take With You to the Afterlife? – Life, Death, Out-of-Body Experiences and the Journey of Consciousness

Matthew Butler, GuestPeople save up for retirement, but how well do we prepare for the journey after? Ancient cultures put great emphasis on the afterlife, because they knew consciousness continued after death. They were right: Out-of-body experiences reveal we really do exist beyond the body. Knowing this truth should inspire us to seek in life what really matters and remains after death – awakened consciousness.What is the greatest mystery of life? According to a legendar [...]

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Before the Fall: Evidence for a Golden Age

If you asked them what life was like in prehistoric times, most people would conjure up an image like the famous opening scenes of 2001: Space Odyssey– groups of hairy savages grunting and jumping around, foaming at the mouth with aggression as they bash each over the heads with sticks. We take it for granted that life was much harder then, a battle to survive, with everyone competing to find food, struggling against the elements, men fighting over women, and everyone dying young fro [...]

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New Evidence Lost Civilizations Really Existed

What if everything you’ve been taught about the origins of civilization is wrong? Be it that certain pieces of our history have been intentionally hidden, or that we have yet to discover and realize the true story of our past, new archaeological and geological discoveries are revealing that sophisticated civilizations have likely existed in prehistoric times.Until recently, the archaeological community has spread the view that the beginnings of human civilization started after the la [...]

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Could Cave Carving Be First Neanderthal Art?


This abstract cave carving is possibly the first known example of Neanderthal rock art. The etching covers an area of about 47 square inches (300 square centimeters). Stewart Finlayson


news.discovery.com

Around 39,000 years ago, a Neanderthal huddled in the back of a seaside cave at Gibraltar, safe from the hyenas, lions and leopards that might have prowled outside. Under the flickering light of a campfire, he or she used a stone tool to carefully etch what looks like a grid or a hashtag onto a natural platform of bedrock.

Archaeologists discovered this enigmatic carving during an excavation of Gorham's Cave two years ago. They had found Neanderthal cut marks on bones and tools before, but they had never seen anything like this. The researchers used Neanderthal tools to test how this geometric design was made — and to rule out the possibility the "artwork" wasn't just the byproduct of butchery. They found that recreating the grid was painstaking work.


"This was intentional — this was not somebody doodling or scratching on the surface," said study researcher Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum. But the discovery poses much more elusive questions: Did this engraving hold any symbolic meaning? Can it be considered art? 

Close cousins

Neanderthals roamed Eurasia from around 200,000 to 30,000 years ago, when they mysteriously went extinct. They were the closest known relatives of modern humans, and recent research has suggested that Neanderthals might have behaved more like Homo sapiens than previously thought: They buried their dead, they used pigments and feathers to decorate their bodies, and they may have even organized their caves.

Despite a growing body of evidence suggesting Neanderthals may have been cognitively similar to modern humans, a lack of art seemed to be the "the last bastion" for the argument that Neanderthals were much different from us, Finlayson said.

"Art is something else — it's an indication of abstract thinking," Finlayson told Live Science.

Archaeologists recently pushed back the date of hand stencil paintings found at El Castillo cave in northern Spain to 40,800 years ago, which opens the possibility that Neanderthals created this artwork. But there is no solid archaeological evidence to link Neanderthals to the paintings. 


Gorham's Cave

In Gorham's Cave, Finlayson and colleagues were surprised to find a series of deeply incised parallel and crisscrossing lines when they wiped away the dirt covering a bedrock surface. The rock had been sealed under a layer of soil that was littered with Mousterian stone tools (a style long linked to Neanderthals). Radiocarbon dating indicated that this soil layer was between 38,500 and 30,500 years old, suggesting the rock art buried underneath was created sometime before then. 

Gibraltar is one of the most famous sites of Neanderthal occupation. At Gorham's Cave and its surrounding caverns, archaeologists have found evidence that Neanderthals butchered seals, roasted pigeons and plucked feathers off birds of prey. In other parts of Europe, Neanderthals lived alongside humans — and may have even interbred with them. But 40,000 years ago, the southern Iberian Peninsula was a Neanderthal stronghold. Modern humans had not spread into the area yet, Finlayson said.

To test whether they were actually looking at an intentional design, the researchers decided to try to recreate the grid on smooth rock surfaces in the cave using actual stone tools left behind in a spoil heap by archaeologists who had excavated the site in the 1950s. More than 50 stone-tool incisions were needed to mimic the deepest line of the grid, and between 188 and 317 total strokes were probably needed to create the entire pattern, the researchers found. Their findings were described yesterday (Sept. 1) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Finlayson and his colleagues also tried to cut pork skin with the stone tools, to test whether the lines were merely the incidental marks left behind after the Neanderthals had butchered meat. But they couldn't replicate the engraving.

"You cannot control the groove if you're cutting through meat, no matter how hard you try," Finlayson said. "The lines go all over the place."

A simple grid is no Venus figurine


The Neanderthals' brand of abstract expressionism might not have impressed Homo sapiens art critics of the day.

"It's very basic. It's very simple," said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "It's not a Venus. It's not a bison. It's not a horse."

By the late Stone Age, modern humans who settled in Europe were already dabbling in representational art. At least a dozen different species of animals — including horses, mammoths and cave lions — are depicted in the Chauvet Cave paintings, which are up to 32,000 years old. The anatomically explicit Venus figurine discovered at Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany dates back to 35,000 years ago. Other busty female statuettes — the Venus of Galgenberg and the Venus of Dolní Vestonice — date back to about 30,000 years ago.

"There is a huge difference between making three lines that any 3-year-old kid would be able to make and sculpting a Venus," Hublin, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.
Hublin said this discovery doesn't close the question of Neanderthals' cognitive skills. Proof that Neanderthals were capable of making a deliberate rock carving isn't evidence that they were regularly making art, he said.

"My own feeling is that if Neanderthals regularly used symbols, and given their longtime occupation throughout large parts of the Old World, we probably would have found clearer evidence by now," said Harold Dibble, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who also was not involved in the study.

Dibble said he was convinced these markings were deliberate, but scientists need "more than a few scratches — deliberate or not — to identify symbolic behavior on the part of Neanderthals."

"Symbols, by definition, have meanings that are shared by a group of people, and because of that, they are often repeated," Dibble wrote in an email. "By itself, this is a unique example and without any intrinsic meaning … the question is not 'Could it be symbolic?' but rather 'Was it symbolic?' And to demonstrate that, it would be very important to have repeated examples."

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