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WiseGuy: The Author's Blog

The Painted Caves of Southern France, Part XI: Neanderthals: The Charmed Circle

Ancient Neanderthal ceremonial circle at Bruniquel Cave in Southern France


by Richard W. Wise

Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC

Copyright 2022


In a book due out in early 2023, archeologist Paul Pettitt, a signatory of the critique mentioned in the previous post, dismisses the dating of the drawing at Cueva de Los Aviones and makes a case that though Neanderthals did indeed make handprints on cave walls, they never executed true drawings.
While the controversy over Neanderthal cave art continues, new discoveries strongly suggest that Neanderthals were fully capable of the symbolic reasoning that is a precondition for the creation of art. At Bruniquel Cave, in Southwestern France east of Montauban, cavers discovered what appears to be two distinct stone circles formed from four hundred broken stalagmites along with some burnt organic material (bones). The circles have been Uranium/thorium dating to approximately 175,000 BP. This is almost 75,000 years before Homo Sapiens migrated out of Africa and 125,000 years before they appeared in Europe.
The circles were built by Neanderthals. What was their purpose? Impossible to tell, but their existence strongly suggests a symbolic, cultural or ceremonial use. Did Neanderthals make art? Increasing evidence indicates that they did.
Given what we know, together with more recent assumptions about Neanderthal's likely cognitive abilities, it is difficult to understand why some scholars insist that Neanderthals never made cave art. Why do we continue to assume that a human species with an average brain size of 200 cc larger than our own was incapable of the symbolic reasoning that is the precondition for creating what we call art?   


There are about a dozen major Neanderthal sites.  Archeologists are fond of saying: "show me the proof," but with Homo Sapiens, we began with the assumption that ancient members of our species created art. With Neanderthals, we made the opposite assumption. Scientists estimate that at the height, there were no more than 15,000 Neanderthal individuals ranging across Europe, Western Asia, and parts of the Middle East. Perhaps, the proof is still out there waiting to be discovered. Lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack.

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