Around 40,000 years ago, a Neanderthal carefully carved what could be the very first hashtag into the walls of a cave in the British territory of Gibraltar, which has recently been discovered along with several other similar carvings. An archaeologist discovered the engravings in Gorham’s Cave in 2012 and the news has now been published in the online New Scientist magazine.
It was Clive Finlayson, the director of the museum in Gibraltar who originally discovered the carved artwork which consists, in total, of eight rock engravings, similar in design to the “tic-tac-toe” game or the modern, much-used character, the hashtag. The carvings cover an area of approximately three square meters (10 square feet) in Gorham’s Cave, and were found along with another fascinating discovery, that of 294 stone tools, dating back at least 39,000 years and believed to have belonged to Neanderthals living in the cave at that time.
What is of particular importance in this find is that scientists state they now have proof that these ancient men were not mere mindless thugs as was previously thought, but had the capability of “subtle symbolic thought” and had creative abilities.
One of the leading researchers in the project is Professor Joaquín Rodríguez-Vidal from the Huelva University in Spain and he stated that by creating these carvings or paintings in caves, Neanderthals showed what is a cognitive step in the development of humans. Rodríguez-Vidal added that this kind of behavior was previously considered to an exclusive trait of the modern human and was always used to distinguish between our more direct ancestors and ancient man.
Another member of the team is Francesco d’Errico, director of research at the CNRS in Bordeaux, France. He stressed the fact that the engravings had been cut into dolomite, which is an extremely hard rock. He said it would have required many strokes of the stone-cutting tool to make the artwork which meant that, while not necessarily bearing any symbolic meaning as such, the engravings were done with a purpose. While not necessarily being representative of the modern-day ‘hashtag’, the symbol made by a Neanderthal, and its reason for being discovered in the cave in Gibraltar, is fascinating indeed.
While members of the team tried to avoid speculation about the reason for the carvings, Finlayson did mention that the location of the first engraving is at a point where the orientation in the cave changes sharply. Finlayson wonders if possibly the mark was something to do with mapping location within the cave. D’Errico theorized that the marks could be to show other Neanderthals that someone was already living there, like a modern day house sign.
The BBC reports that in recent findings, it has been discovered the Neanderthals intentionally interred their dead and that they used certain red and black pigments, along with feathers, to decorate their bodies. Other possible Neanderthal art has been found in the form of motifs in various caves in southern and northern Spain and even a possible musical instrument could date back to their time in the form of a bone flute discovered in Divje Babe, Slovenia.
Other discoveries have uncovered the fact that the Neanderthal diet was more involved than thought before, including the fact that they killed and ate pigeons and other birds, and enjoyed a variety of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Now on top of all the fascinating recent discoveries is the fact that Neanderthals appear to have been fond of the criss-cross symbol, which nowadays represents a modern-day hashtag or a game of tic-tac-toe, as recently discovered in a Gibraltar cave.
By Anne Sewell