Popular depiction of Neanderthals typically yields the same results: cultureless, brooding individuals confining themselves to caves. Consider the Geico cavemen, Night at the Museum, The Croods. This interpretation is so universal that calling someone a Neanderthal implies low intellect and lack of class. However, recent evidence suggests that Neanderthals partook in more refined activities than we tend to give them credit for.
In the known Neanderthal site of Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar, anthropologists have discovered what is considered the first identified piece of Neanderthal art. Shown in this video, the etching may not seem like art when compared to cave paintings created by early Homo sapiens, but anthropologists state that compared to other marks in Neanderthal habitats, these lines represent a deliberate pattern. Although Neanderthal jewelry has been found before, this art is considered especially symbolic and potentially indicates that Neanderthals had some sort of language or writing system.
The article also notes the similarities between this piece of art and the earliest art of modern humans. Both are simple geometric patterns which most likely had symbolic relevance. If early humans and Neanderthals alike had similar artistic abilities, this should serve as evidence against so-called primitive nature of Neanderthals. How, then, does this fit into the theory that humans out-competed Neanderthals for the same environmental niche due to “their superior cognitive abilities?” In a Huffington Post article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/02/neanderthal-cave-art-intelligence_n_5751508.html) University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Harold Dibble argues that one piece of evidence should not serve to undermine previous theories regarding Neanderthal culture. Is the question, then, one of quantity? At what point is there “enough” evidence to support this new theory of Neanderthal symbolism?