Researchers studying the mysterious symbols on the cave walls of the La Roche-Cotard cave in the picturesque Loire valley. Credit: Kristina Thomsen/SWNS.

Mysterious 57,000-Year-Old Symbols Discovered in French Cave

Mysterious symbols etched on the walls of a cave in France were made by ancient humans, and date back between 57,000 and 75,000 years old.


In a French cave, archaeologists discovered a series of mysterious, 57,000-year-old symbols believed to belong to an ancient human species. According to preliminary studies, experts say that these are the oldest known Neanderthal artwork that have been discovered to date. The findings, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, come from a study led by Jean-Claude Marquet of the University of Tours and his team.

Decoding Ancient Human Symbols

The cultural complexity of the ancient human species has been illuminated over recent decades. However, their symbolic or artistic expression remains largely a mystery. Symbolic creations attributed to Neanderthals are scarce, and their interpretation is often hotly debated. This is why the discovery of these ancient human symbols bears such weight among experts.


In this study, the team identified marks on a wall in the La Roche-Cotard cave in the French Loire Valley as the oldest known Neanderthal engravings. The markings, believed to be made by human hands, represent non-figurative symbols.


Enigmatic Symbols Created by Ancient Humans

Using trace analysis and photogrammetry, the researchers created 3D models of the markings and compared them to known and experimental human-made marks. They concluded that human hands intentionally crafted them from the shape, spacing, and organization of these etchings.

The cave’s sediments were dated using optically stimulated luminescence, showing that the cave was sealed off by sediment approximately 57,000 years ago, long before Homo sapiens occupied the area. The presence of Mousterian stone tools, linked with Neanderthals, further strengthens the belief that the engravings were the work of Neanderthals.

A Glimpse into the Neanderthal World

The exact purpose of these non-figurative symbols remains a mystery. Yet, their age aligns with rock carvings made by Homo sapiens elsewhere, contributing to the increasing evidence of Neanderthal behavior and activities being as diverse and complex as our ancestors. The authors concluded that “the engravings, dated over 57,000 years and likely up to 75,000 years old thanks to stratigraphy, make La Roche-Cotard the oldest decorated cave in France, if not in Europe.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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