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Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. (Etienne FABRE – SSAC)

Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. (Etienne FABRE – SSAC)

A pile of hundreds of broken stalagmite pieces found deep inside Bruniquel cave, France were made by humans from about 176,000 years ago. The ancient structures are actually made of more than 400 pieces of stalagmites, located about 300 meters from the cave’s entrance. All the stones are similarly sized, piled up, and arranged in two circles. The researchers also found signs of fire on the structures, as well as burned bone fragments. By analyzing the stalagmites as well as the calcite that grew on top of them, the researchers were able to date the site to about 176,500 years ago. At that time, only Neanderthals lived in Europe.

The findings were published earlier this week in Nature and indicate Neanderthals were creating complex structures way before modern humans arrived in Europe. The only other known remnants of Neanderthal constructions are disputed and they date no later than 50,000 years ago.

Xavier MUTH - Get in Situ, Archéotransfert, Archéovision – SHS-3D, base photographique Pascal Mora A 3D reconstruction of the structures.

Xavier MUTH – Get in Situ, Archéotransfert, Archéovision – SHS-3D, base photographique Pascal Mora A 3D reconstruction of the structures.

This week’s study, shows that Neanderthals built structures so complex that they resemble those made by modern humans. This evidence adds to the theory that Neanderthals were very intelligent and supplement that their behaviors weren’t that far off from modern modern humans. For example, we already knew before they performed symbolic burials, made beautiful cave art and made musical instruments. For individuals to create structures like the ones in the Bruniquel cave they had to have to have some sort of lighting apparatus inside a pitch dark cave, it also required forethought, it required planning and organization so that you can actually do that, like break the stalagmites and erect the structures.

These structures could represent some kind of symbolic or ritual behaviors, but we won’t really know, but what is interesting is that Neanderthals had enough social capacity to be making these amazing structures nearly 175,000 years ago. Isn’t that remarkable?

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