Mysterious stone rings, probably built by Neanderthals, have been found in a cave in France.
The researchers investigating the cave in France have identified the stone rings as structures that were probably built by Neanderthals.
Neanderthals were a species/sub-species of humans, which became extinct between 40,000 and 28,000 years ago. The Neanderthals left remains that include bone and stone tools, found in Eurasia, from Western Europe to parts of Asia.
The structures found in France were described Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The structures are located in the Bruniquel Cave, in Southwest France, and are made of roughly 400 pieces of stalagmites, all roughly the same size.
Archaeologists said that these mineral formations were probably broken off the cave floor by Neanderthals and arranged into two large rings and a series of four round piles up to 15 inches high.
Structures Made From Stalagmites
Scientists believe that the structures were broken off around 175,000 years ago.
The structures were made from hundreds of stalagmites, the mineral deposits which rise from the floors of caves.
The stalagmites had been cut down to similar lengths and laid out in two oval patterns up to 40cm (16in) high.
“Their presence at 336m from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity,” the researchers wrote in their study.
Origin Of The Stalagmites
The structures represent some of the earliest known constructions made by hominids, as well as the earliest known evidence of cave use.
Scientists said that the structures also suggest that early Neanderthals may have had better control over fire than was previously thought.
Co-author Jacques Jaubert, from the University of Bordeaux, said he had ruled out the possibility that these carefully constructed rings could have come about by chance or have been assembled by animals.
“The origin of the structures is undeniably human. It really cannot be otherwise,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
The scientists also said that Neanderthals must have made the structures at a time when only Neanderthals were present in Europe.
Also, because the structures are located in a dark and difficult-to-access cave 300 yards from the entrance of the cave, this early Neanderthal group must have been able to go so deep into a cave where there was no natural light.
Prof Chris Stringer, of London’s Natural History Museum, called the discovery “remarkable”,
“At around 175,000 years, these must have been made by early Neanderthals, the only known human inhabitants of Europe at this time.”
Prof Stringer, who was not involved in the study, commented,
“If there is still-buried debris from occupation, it would help us to determine whether this was a functional refuge or shelter, perhaps roofed using wood and skins, or something which had more symbolic or ritual significance.
“Some of the burning must surely be associated with lighting in such a dark location, but only further discoveries from this or other sites will show us how common were such deep cave occupations in the ancient past, and what their purpose might have been.”