Engraved stones offer proof of Neanderthal symbolism, new study claims

May 2 (UPI) — Researchers in France believe a new interpretative framework can be used to show engraved flint stones were carved with symbolic or communicative intent by Neanderthals.

Stones artifacts with etched markings have been recovered from 27 different Middle and Lower Paleolithic sites across Europe and the Middle East, but archaeologists have struggled to confirm the intentionality of the engravings.

A team of researchers at the University of Bordeaux have developed a methodology with which to determine whether the markings are a symbolic act or an accidental scrape.

Researchers used their new interpretative framework to analyze an engraved stone flake recovered from an archaeological site in Crimea called Kiik-Koba.

“The microscopic analysis and 3D reconstruction of the grooves on the cortex of this small flint flake, demonstrate that the incisions represent a deliberate engraving made by a skilled craftsman, probably with two different points,” researchers wrote in a paper published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One.

Researchers also noted that the engraved lines are “perfectly framed” within the face of the stone flake, offering further proof of the purpose with which they were engraved.

“The production of the engraving required excellent neuromotor and volitional control, which implies focused attention,” the archaeologists wrote.

Using their new interpretative framework, the research team, including Bordeaux archaeologists Ana Majkić and Francesco d’Errico, as well as Vadim Stepanchuk from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, determined the the Kiik-Koba engravings were made with “representational intent.”

The study authors hope their work will be used to consider the symbolic intent of other similar engravings.

Earlier this year, researchers from England and the United States published evidence that Neanderthals were painting caves at least 64,000 years ago — the earliest evidence of symbolic behavior.