The oldest ‘art’ I have ever posted on this blog.
Found on the floor of a cave in Gibraltar which was occupied by Neanderthals, this etching was made 39,000 years ago, or "perhaps many millennia before" (Tom Higham, University of Oxford).
The nature of this ‘art’ remains a matter of debate. Some have suggested that it is some form of abstract symbol, reinforcing the notion that Neanderthals were capable of subtle symbolic thought. Regardless, it seems apparent that the etching was made purposefully, as the work by Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux has made clear: "This was not doodling […] It required a lot of effort."Likewise, they do not seem to have been the by-product of butchering: “The pattern was clearly purposefully made, and not a utilitarian activity. There was a will to produce an abstract pattern.” Higham and Paul Pettitt of Durham University, while agreeing that the pattern is intentional, are more reluctant to suggest that the abstract nature of the etching says something about Neanderthal thinking.
Either way, when considering recent discoveries suggesting that Neanderthals wore jewellery of feathers and painted shells, the discovery does not seem so surprising. As April Nowell of the University of Victoria in Canada states: “If the date and the species attribution stand […the results] fit well with what we know about Late Neanderthal culture”.
Recommended reading: ‘A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar.' Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1411529111. The New Scientist article on the matter was also used when writing this post up, who also uploaded the shown video of the etching to Youtube.