Published On: Thu, May 3rd, 2018

Scratches on a stone may evince Neanderthal creative urges

The scratches on this flake of flint may not look much but they were made with deliberation by a Neanderthal man or woman. That is the conclusion of Ana Majkic of the University of Bordeaux and her colleagues, in a paper just published in PLOS ONE. Dr Majkic’s analysis bears on the question of whether Neanderthals had anything that might remotely be described as an artistic impulse—a phenomenon many anthropologists suspect is unique to Homo sapiens. The stone in question, about 4cm long, was found in 1925 (though no description of it was published until 2006) in a cave in the Crimea that also played host to Neanderthal bones. Patterns of scratches on stones used by Neanderthals are not unusual. They have been found at more than two dozen sites. But whether those patterns are deliberate or accidental is much debated. Dr Majkic argues for deliberation in this case because microscopic examination suggests the scratches were made by two different engraving tools, and also because, despite the flint being small, the pattern on it is framed by an unscratched area. If the scratches were accidental, some of them would probably reach the edge.

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Scratches on a stone may evince Neanderthal creative urges