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by Jeff Matthews

Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France

All cavers know that at least some of the chambers they clamber down and through have hosted very early resident inhabitants at some time or another. Well-known caves in Spain, France and Italy provide ample evidence that "someone used to live here." At least when it comes to complex cultural artifacts, that someone has often been interpreted to mean early homo sapiens—modern humans—and not our more "primitive" cousins from the same genus, homo neanderthalensis. Now comes very recent word from the Bruniquel Cave in southwest France of a complex Neanderthal dwelling deep underground.

Here is the link to the abstract of the report published in the on-line edition Nature, part of which runs: www.nature.com

"...we report the dating of annular constructions made of broken stalagmites found deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwest France. The regular geometry of the stalagmite circles, the arrangement of broken stalagmites and several traces of fire demonstrate the anthropogenic origin of these constructions. Uranium-series dating of stalagmite regrowths on the structures and on burnt bone, combined with the dating of stalagmite tips in the structures, give a reliable and replicated age of 176.5 thousand years (±2.1 thousand years), making these edifices among the oldest known well-dated constructions made by humans. Their presence at 336 metres from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity.”

Readers should note that such discoveries contribute to the so-called "rehabilitation" of the Neanderthals. They have gone from low-or-no-brow cave men with no culture to makers of tools, users of fire, creators of art, practicers of relgion, and, probably, speakers of language.

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