A 39,000 year old hashtag etching has been found in a Mediterranean cave, beneath layers of sediment containing Neanderthal tools. The markings were undoubtedly created on purpose (i.e., not the result of sedimentary or geologic forces), and it is very likely that they were created by Neanderthals (not Homo sapiens). The location and dating of the etchings support this hypothesis, since Homo sapiens had not yet made it to Gibraltar at the time the etchings were made.
What were these engravings for? They are about the size of a Frisbee and are etched into the surface of flat, table-like rock in a prominent location in the cave; further, the pattern took over 300 strokes to complete*. Were Neanderthals somehow marking territory lines? Was it a primitive form of artwork? Or were these intelligent humans (for Neanderthals were, indeed, humans) simply playing their ancient version of tic-tac-toe?
Thus remains one of the most intriguing questions that exists: what was it like to be a Neanderthal?
* In case you were wondering how we know that, scientists tried recreating the marks using original Neanderthal stone tools.
A Mediterranean seaside cave in Gibraltar holds what researchers believe is some of Europe's oldest art. The X-shaped markings were etched into the rock walls at least 39,000 years ago, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The source of the artwork is subject to some debate, however. The study authors report that Neanderthals should receive the credit, while others researchers think that Homo sapiens are the more likely creators.