Gorham’s cave is in Gibraltar and almost certainly a Neanderthal site. Mousterian tools are thought to have been used by Neanderthals from 300,000 to 39,000 years ago. It is possibly one of the last sites of the Neanderthals surviving in southern Iberia as their fellows were being gradually absorbed and assimilated into AMH. This is the first time that abstract rock carvings have been attributed to Neanderthals and could be evidence of their ability to handle abstract concepts and symbols. It would further reduce the usually presumed cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans.
J. Rodriguez-Vidal, F. d’Errico, F. Giles Pacheco, R. Blasco, J. Rosell, R. P. Jennings, A. Queffelec, G. Finlayson, D. A. Fa, J. M. Gutierrez Lopez, J. S. Carrion, J. J. Negro, S. Finlayson, L. M. Caceres, M. A. Bernal, S. Fernandez Jimenez, C. Finlayson. A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1411529111
Press Release from the Universite de Bordeaux
The production of representational and abstract depictions on cave walls is seen as a key stage in the development of human cultures. Until now, this cultural innovation was considered to be a characteristic feature of modern humans, who colonized Europe around 40 000 years ago. It has also frequently been used to suggest that there were marked cognitive differences between modern humans and the Neanderthals who preceded them, and who did not express themselves in this way.
The recent discovery in Gorham’s Cave changes the picture. It consists of an abstract engraving in the form of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into the bedrock at the back of the cave. At the time it was identified it was covered by a layer of sediment shown by radiocarbon dating to be 39 000 years old. Since the engraving lies beneath this layer it is therefore older. This dating, together with the presence of Mousterian2 tools characteristic of Neanderthals in the sediments covering the engraving, shows that it was made by Neanderthals, who still populated the south of the Iberian peninsula at that time.