F Rosa Rubicondior: Creationism in Crisis - Neanderthals Were Creating Art in Caves in France, At Least 40,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Neanderthals Were Creating Art in Caves in France, At Least 40,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'.

Neanderthals were the world’s first artists | University of Basel

It's shaping up to be another of those terrible weeks for the creation cult, as yet more scientific papers are published that show just how much of Earth's history happened in that vast period of time before 'Creation Week' - the 7 days about 10,000 years ago that creationists believe the Universe, Earth, and all living things were created by magic out of nothing.

The first of these is a mere 40,000 years before 'Creation Week' when hominins - probably Neanderthals - were making marks on a cave wall in La Roche-Cotard in the Loire Valley, France, in what may be some of the earliest examples of human art.

The La Roche-Cotard cave remained sealed by mud and soil sediments from the Loire for over 50,000 years (i.e., about 10,000 years before Homo sapiens appeared in Europe) until rediscovered in 1974 by French archaeologist Jean-Claude Marquet.

The markings have now been dated by an international team from France, Denmark Switzerland, Portugal and Hungary, which included Jean-Claude Marquet of Université de Tours, Tours, France and archaeologist Dorota Wojtczak from University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

They have published their findings open access in PLOS ONE. Its significance is explained in a University of Basle news release by Christian Heuss:
Recent research has shown that engravings in a cave in La Roche-Cotard (France), which has been sealed for thousands of years, were actually made by Neanderthals. This research was performed by Basel archaeologist Dorota Wojtczak together with a team of researchers from France and Denmark, whose findings reveal that the Neanderthals were in fact the first humans with an appreciation of art.

When the French archaeologist Jean-Claude Marquet entered the La Roche-Cotard cave in the Loire Valley for the first time back in 1974, he suspected that the fine lines on the wall could be of human origin. He also found scrapers and other retouched pieces known as Mousterian stone artifacts that suggested the cave had been used by Neanderthals. Were the marks on the wall evidence of early Neanderthal artistic activity?

Posing this question raised the possibility of breaking with the consensus of the time, which largely assumed that Homo neanderthalensis lacked any higher cognitive abilities. Fearing he would be unable to provide sufficient scientific evidence to prove his hypothesis, Marquet left the cave untouched for almost 40 years.

Marks on the wall produced by human hands

Together with an international team, he made another attempt in 2016. This time he was accompanied by Dr. Dorota Wojtczak from Integrative Prehistoric and Archaeological Science (IPAS) at the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University of Basel, who specializes in archaeological use-wear analysis. “Our task was to use modern methods to prove the human origin of these wall engravings,” explains Wojtczak in her office at IPAS. The researchers recently published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

First with photos and drawings and later with a 3D scanner, the marks in the tuff rock of the cave wall were meticulously recorded. In her laboratory in Basel, Wojtczak compared these samples from the cave with tuff she had worked on experimentally with wood, bone and stone tools, as well as with her hands. “This research clearly showed that the cave marks were not made with tools, but by scratching with human fingers,” says Wojtczak.

Cave sealed for over 50,000 years

At the same time, examination of cave sediment by researchers from Denmark showed that the cave must have been sealed off by mud residues from the Loire and soil sediments for over 50,000 years before being rediscovered. This makes the La Roche-Cotard cave system a very special location – a veritable “time capsule”. “At this time, 50,000 years ago, there were no modern humans in Europe, only Neanderthals,” says Wojtczak. The wall marks and artifacts can therefore only come from these early humans.

While the clear geometric shapes with parallel and triangular lines suggest that these marks were not scribbled on the wall by chance, the researcher does not know what they represent. “But they could only have been made by someone who proceeded with planning and understanding,” she says. And whether it was “art” as such, or a form of recording-keeping, is a matter of interpretation.

La Roche-Cotard promises further findings

The cave holds many other archaeological secrets. Jean-Claude Marquet also found an object that resembles the face of a human or animal back in 1976, and Wojtczak’s use-wear analysis suggests that this object is also man-made. Another object from the cave appears to be a small oil lamp. “Specialists are currently investigating whether the object bears any pigments or soot substances that could help to identify the type of fuel used at the time,” explains Wojtczak.

The chamber of La Roche-Cotard that has been explored so far is just one part of an entire cave system. The researcher hopes to gain further insight into the Neanderthals’ activities, particularly from Chamber 4, which is still largely covered by sediment. Wojtczak is convinced that every investigation will help to further the dismantle traditional consensus of Neanderthals as mentally inferior humans, and reinforce the perception of them as more like the cousins of modern humans. “They could speak, and probably even sang,” she adds, grinning.

Dorota Wojtczak will continue her research into Neanderthal life in La Roche-Cotard together with her students from the Prehistory and Archaeological Science degree program.
In their published paper, the team say:
Abstract Here we report on Neanderthal engravings on a cave wall at La Roche-Cotard (LRC) in central France, made more than 57±3 thousand years ago. Following human occupation, the cave was completely sealed by cold-period sediments, which prevented access until its discovery in the 19th century and first excavation in the early 20th century. The timing of the closure of the cave is based on 50 optically stimulated luminescence ages derived from sediment collected inside and from around the cave. The anthropogenic origin of the spatially-structured, non-figurative marks found within the cave is confirmed using taphonomic, traceological and experimental evidence. Cave closure occurred significantly before the regional arrival of H. sapiens, and all artefacts from within the cave are typical Mousterian lithics; in Western Europe these are uniquely attributed to H. neanderthalensis. We conclude that the LRC engravings are unambiguous examples of Neanderthal abstract design.
Fig 1. Location and map of La Roche-Cotard.
A and B. Geographical and geological location of La Roche-Cotard. C. Map of the main Mousterian sites in central-west France. Sources: geological map redrawn from BRGM; coastlines, relief and rivers: Natural Earth (public domain); Map of France: reprinted from d_maps.com under a CC BY license, with permission from d_maps.com. Maps made with QGIS 3.4.12-Madeira (H. Guillemot).

Fig 9. Spatial organisation of the marked panels in the Pillar Chamber.
A. View of the Pillar Chamber from the entrance, showing the location of panels with markings. Sections and ridges of the ceiling are indicated by red lines. Numbered panels are indicated by blue areas or arrows. The horizontal grey area on the ground is at the altitude (50.05 m NGF) of the top of the very compact layer 3, in front of the last five digital trace panels. B. Orthophoto of the north-west and north-east walls of the Pillar Chamber, with the location of the panels with plots. The dashed line represents the probable ground level. a: Entrance Panel; b: Fossil Panel; c: Linear Panel; d: Undulated Panel; e: Circular Panel; f: Triangular Panel; g: Rectangular Panel; h: Dotted Panel (Photogrammetry Y. Egels).
Fig 11. The Undulated Panel.
The survey (O. Spaey and G. Alain) gives the traces numbering. The arrows indicate the direction of the passage of the finger.

Fig 13. The Triangular Panel.
The survey (M. Calligaro) gives the numbering of the traces. The green zone corresponds to the surface of the break of a natural cylinder of chert in its natural place. There are complements in S12 Fig about that panel.
Fig 10. The Linear Panel.
The limits of the finger flutings are shown in black. When the edges are well cut, the line is thicker. When the line is not clearly legible, the line is dashed. Animal tracks are in blue. This legend also applies to all other panels. The survey (J. Esquerre and H. Lombard) gives the numbering of the traces.

Fig 12. The Circular Panel.
The survey (O. Spaey and G. Alain) gives the numbering of the traces. The arrows indicate the direction of the traces. The alteration of the central lower part is very strong and worrying. S11 Fig shows the Undulated Panel and the Circular Panel together.

Fig 14. The Dotted Panel.
The survey (O. Spaey and G. Alain) gives the numbering of the traces. Animal marks are in blue. Traces 13 to 15 and 27 to 35 are modern anthropic traces made with metal tool.

Marquet J-C, Freiesleben TH, Thomsen KJ, Murray AS, Calligaro M, Macaire J-J, et al. (2023)
The earliest unambiguous Neanderthal engravings on cave walls: La Roche-Cotard, Loire Valley, France.
PLoS ONE 18(6): e0286568. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0286568

Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by PLoS. Open access.
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)

The usual response to this sort of news by creationists is to either bear false witness against the scientists or to misrepresent the science and gibber mindlessly about C14 dating (which wasn't used to date the silt sealing the cave in this paper). The fact remains however that there were hominins with very human hands and fingers making marks on this cave wall, at least 40,000 years before the mythical 'Creation Week'. For normal people, that might be reason enough to cast doubt on the truth of the myth, but creationism is not an evidence-based belief; it’s a cult which requires absurd beliefs as a condition of membership and its members consist almost entirely of people for whom knowledge is something to be ashamed of and ignorance is considered an achievement to be proud of.

But bad though that paper is for creationism, their week is about to get even worse with the next paper that deals with 490-million-year-old trilobites, how they were dated and how their known age can now be used to date similar rocks in which they are found. This will be the subject of my next blog post.

Thank you for sharing!

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